Married to the odd
Some pretty funny actors cut loose and have a good time in The In-Laws, a disposable but sometimes fun remake of the hilarious 1979 film starring Peter Falk and Alan Arkin. That film, directed by Arthur Hiller and written by Andrew Bergman, had a warped and witty sense of humor. The remake, starring Michael Douglas and Albert Brooks, is broad and dumb-headed. But it is Douglas and Brooks, and as long as they are game, laughs are pretty much guaranteed.
As rogue CIA operative Steve Tobias, Douglas is in good form as a devilish nut job and the father of soon-to-be-married Mark (Ryan Reynolds). Nervous podiatrist Jerry Peyser (Albert Brooks) is the father of Mark’s bride-to-be, Melissa (Lindsay Sloane). When the two men meet for the first time, Steve takes Jerry to a Vietnamese restaurant where they serve live snake, a joke that wouldn’t be funny if it weren’t for Brooks’ deadpan reaction when asked why he hasn’t touched his food—"My dinner is still eating.”
Jerry winds up becoming entangled in Steve’s latest mission, an attempt to dupe a strange drug smuggler (David Suchet) involving some nonsense with a missing stealth submarine. The humor in this situation comes from the sick glee Douglas’ character gets out of forcing Jerry to face his fears of flying, parachuting, gunplay and male come-ons.
In the original film, Falk played the Douglas role and Arkin played the Brooks part. Falk went for understatement and ambiguity in his brilliant performance, while Douglas shoots here for sly charm and over-the-top bravado. Arkin arguably delivered his career’s funniest performance as the confused dentist. Brooks simply does a recap of many of his past whiny roles, although that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
In many ways, this is a remake only in name. The tone of the original had a twisted darkness to it, while the remake stands as more of a kooky wedding movie. Douglas is best when he’s trying to be funny (his career’s best turn in Wonder Boys allowed for some great humor), and those who share that opinion should enjoy seeing him go for the laugh. Brooks failed miserably with his last writer-director vehicle (The Muse, starring the ever acerbic Sharon Stone), so it’s OK, and even a little fun, to see him slumming a bit.
Suchet gets some good laughs as the feminine drug dealer attempting to deal with his rage and shamelessly falling in love with Jerry. I’m sure most of us could do without the sight of Albert Brooks in a thong, but the way the scene comes off is good for a giggle, thanks to Suchet’s comic timing. Also in a supporting role is Candice Bergen as Steve’s ex-wife, a very small role that still affords the actress a couple of shining moments, including a rather scary recollection of a sexual encounter during an elevator ride.
The movie has plenty of flaws. Reynolds and Sloane are bland as the engaged couple, and a subplot involving FBI agents in pursuit of Douglas is drab. While there are plenty of honest laughs to be had, there are also many dry spells. And while the movie boasts some funny moments and sporadic laughter, not a single moment generates anything beyond good giggles. No belly laughs to be found.
Douglas and Brooks play well off each other, even when their material thins out. By the time the film reaches its predictable wedding finale, the premise has been beaten to death. That’s not to say that there aren’t some fun times along the way. The In-Laws is harmless fun at best, tired genre retread at worst.