The In-Laws
review by Gregory Avery, 23 May 2003

I will have to join my voice with that of Peter Rainer's, who has, recently, called for a moratorium on bad remakes of films that were perfectly good to begin with. Last year, we had perfectly dreadful remakes of Rollerball (well, the original wasn't that all great, but it looked a whole lot better after the remake), The Time Machine, and, on television, The Magnificent Ambersons (which purported to be based on Orson Welles' screenplay, but then failed to use the ending that Welles had intended). This year (with a remake of The Italian Job already on the horizon), there's The In-Laws.

The 1979 film, which was directed, by Arthur Hiller, from a hilarious original screenplay by Andrew Bergman (who would later be put through the meatgrinder of the Demi Moore film Striptease), had Alan Arkin as an upper-middle-class dentist who finds out that his daughter is about to be wed to the son of a man (Peter Falk) who's an international espionage operative. The story was a comedy with some espionage trappings: Falk's character takes Arkin along on an assignment simply because it seems like a very good opportunity for the two men to get to know each other better, since their kids are about to be married. So what do the makers of the new film do? They turn it into an espionage actioner with comedy trappings. The opening scenes, filmed in the dark, grey-blue colors of a Jerry Bruckheimer spy drama, show shady encounters, sinister deals, nasty gunplay, car chases, and Michael Douglas flying a jet with a hole in it from Prague to Nova Scotia. It's as if the filmmakers didn't think the audience would sit still for anything unless they threw in some business showing people doodling around with high-tech gizmos and racing around in cars first.

Back in the States, Albert Brooks turns up playing a podiatrist (for reasons which solely have to do with a minor plot turn that occurs late in the film): he has a couple of phobias (fear of planes, fear of heights), and he wears a fanny pack. This last is the source of not so much endless jokes as the same joke repeated many times: "What's that? A fanny pack?" asks Douglas' pretty young assistant (Robin Tunney), with an incredulous look on her face. "Ha ha ha." It's so-so the first time around, not so great when you hear it, seemingly verbatim, the fourth or fifth time. Albert Brooks' performance in the film is flat and dispirited, and it's not surprising: he also has to wear a thong in one scene, and the humorous stuff he's handed to do is dismally uninspired.

The madcap Latin dictator played by Richard Libertini in the 1979 film is here replaced with a French munitions dealer who swans around with one little finger extended and is played by, of all people, T.V.'s Hercule Poirot himself, David Suchet. Doubtless the producers thought that by hiring openly-gay director Andrew Fleming to helm this picture, he'd find some way to take the edge off of the gay gags so that they wouldn't look like they're trading on homophobic clichés while reinforcing them at the same time. He doesn't, and they still look like they do (right up until the very end, in fact). Michael Douglas, by the by,  does not lend himself terribly well to broad humor in this film -- like Cary Grant, he works well when he does variations on a suave persona. Candice Bergen, terribly dressed and wearing an explosion of hair, almost finds some way to make her role as Douglas' estranged wife work -- she has the clenched manner of someone waiting for a root canal to begin. I would suggest spending your time and hard-earned money, though, checking out the 1979 film on video, before plunking one's self down to watch this depressing, wince-inducing enterprise.

Directed by:
Andrew Fleming

Michael Douglas
Albert Brooks
Robin Tunney
Lindsay Sloane
Ryan Reynolds
Russell Andrews
David Suchet 
Candice Bergen

Written by:
Nat Mauldin 
Ed Solomon

PG-13 - Parents
Strongly Cautioned.
Some material may
be inappropriate for
children under 13.






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