Billy Crystal proved earlier this year that he’s still more than capable of hosting an Oscar telecast. The question that remains is whether or not the 64-year-old comedic legend still has what it takes to carry a feature-length film.
It’s been almost a decade since Crystal has had a leading role in a live-action movie. One would hope that Crystal would have selected a smart, bold script to make his big comeback. Instead he decided to totally sell out and team up with Director Andy Fickman, the schmuck that made the inexplicably awful “You Again,” to produce “Parental Guidance.” This is a monotonous family comedy that will be instantly forgotten by anyone who sees it. But at least that’s more than can be said about “Daddy Day Camp,” “College Road Trip,” and those “Are We There Yet” movies, family comedies that eternally scar the audience with their dreadfulness.
Crystal is Artie Decker, a minor league baseball sportscaster that talks more like a third-rate comedian. Artie gets a call from his distant daughter, exaggeratedly played by Marisa Tomei, who has to go out of town for a couple days with her husband, blandly played by Tom Everett Scott. The problem is that they need babysitter to watch after their three kids. Bette Midler stars as Artie’s wife who is all too eager to see her grandchild. Artie on the other hand, is much more reluctant.
Bailee Madison, who was pretty good last year in “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” is the stressed out oldest child that strives for perfection. Joshua Rush is the timid middle kid who has a stutter. Then there’s Kyle Harrison Breitkopf as the immature youngest who addresses Artie as Farty. How hilarious is that? They all live in a bizarre smart house with an automated voice. At one point you might anticipate this smart house to pull a HAL 9000 and turn against the family. But the filmmakers are incapable of producing a movie that risky or interesting.
Tomei’s character is overly protective of his kids, never letting then eat sugar, shielding them away from any conflict, and never blatantly saying “No.” Artie naturally doesn’t agree with this parenting method and flips the whole house upside down. From this we get some typical PG humor derived from baseball bats to the crotch, vomiting, a sugar high, face painting, and injuring Tony Hawke with a puddle of urine. Along the way, Crystal manages to score a few humorous, though not particularly memorable, one-liners. The only consistently funny aspect of the film is Gedde Watanabe, who played Long Duk Dong in “Sixteen Candles,” as a man who passionately indulges one of the children’s imaginary friends. It’s actually kind of amusing how this middle-aged Asian man is more invested in the imaginary friend than the kid who created him.
Aside from not being especially funny, the problem with “Parental Guidance” is its all too familiar life lessons. We’ve already seen a million other movies about old school parenting colliding with new aged parenting, letting your kids have fun, and learning to listen. Yet, “Parental Guidance” shoves these morals down the audience’s throat as if it’s saying something new. Even if some of these messages have significance, the film doesn’t exactly portray them well. So if a movie isn’t going to be funny, charming, or original, then what’s the point of its existence?
Nick Spake is a college student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for the past seven years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org