Cynical audiences will hate this simplistic, softhearted comedy, but for a bit of undemanding entertainment, it isn't too bad. And while the cast members don't remotely stretch themselves in these roles, they at least manage to get the emotion flowing in the predictable final act. And sometimes a bit of mindless silliness is just what we need.
Crystal and Midler play Artie and Diane, grandparents who have little contact with their uptight daughter Alice (Tomei), who lives on the other side of the country. When she decides to accompany her inventor husband (Scott) to an awards ceremony, she reluctantly agrees to let her parents take care of their three over-protected kids: burgeoning teen daughter Harper (Madison), shy son Turner (Rush) and mop-headed Barker (Breitkopf), a bundle of cheeky energy who immediately renames his granddad "Fartie". Of course, tech-phobic Artie and hug-loving Diane struggle to keep up with these children they barely know, but they're more resilient and far cleverer than Alice gives them credit for.
The script never tries to be sophisticated, announcing its important life lessons early on and never putting any of the characters in danger of not learning something. Meanwhile, the writers continually contrive the plot to keep Tomei on screen as much as possible, even though this kind of undermines the whole point of the grandparents being there in the first place. And every challenge faced by each character (there's a mini-plot for everyone) is fairly easy to navigate. But all of the actors manage to underplay the physical chaos while bringing enough charm to the film to keep us engaged.
But this could have been so much better. Crystal, Midler and Tomei are all strong performers who could bring more depth than this film requires of them. None of them even breaks a sweat here: the jokes are gentle, the conflicts are enriching, the lifelong tensions are batted away with a smile. Even director Fickman seems to be working on auto-pilot, assembling scenes that are functional at best. But then he's made a career out of effortless fluff from The Game Plan to You Again. And while the ending helps us feel warm and fuzzy, it also leaves us with a nagging sense that a spikier script might have made us laugh more while giving the actors something more challenging to work with.
Run time: 105 mins
In Theaters: Tuesday 25th December 2012
Box Office USA: $77.3M
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Production compaines: 20th Century Fox, Chernin Entertainment, Walden Media
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 18%
Fresh: 15 Rotten: 70
IMDB: 6.0 / 10
Director: Andy Fickman
Producer: Peter Chernin, Billy Crystal, Samantha Sprecher
Screenwriter: Lisa Addario, Joe Syracuse
Starring: Billy Crystal as Artie Decker, Bette Midler as Diane Decker, Marisa Tomei as Alice, Tom Everett Scott as Phil Simmons, Bailee Madison as Harper Simmons, Joshua Rush as Turner Simmons, Kyle Harrison Breitkopf as Barker Simmons, Jennifer Crystal Foley as Cassandra, Rhoda Griffis as Dr. Schveer, Gedde Watanabe as Mr. Cheng, Madison Lintz as Ashley, Karan Kendrick as Pre-School Mom, Patricia French as Marilyn - Pole Dancer, Brad James as Rookie Cop, Tony Hawk as Himself, Steve Levy as Himself
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