“Parental Guidance” never figures out which demographic it wants to please: the people who still find Billy Crystal’s 40-years-past-its-prime jokes about airline food funny, or the ones who still find humor in throwing food and getting hit in the groin with a bat?
That wishy-washy quality casts a dark shadow over the film early on, and the movie never manages to recover in time to redeem itself. The first half is the best: grandparents Bette Midler and Crystal (and yes, they are old enough to play grandparents) are asked by their daughter (Marisa Tomei) and her husband (Tom Everett Scott) to keep an eye on their three precocious grandkids while they go out of town on business. The movie wrings every bit of humor out of that shopworn premise as it can, showing how “out-of-touch” Crystal and Midler have become in this great Age of Facebook and “Saw.”
It’s here that I should mention that, while I was mildly amused at these early scenes of tired pratfalls and giant messes, the 7-year-old sitting next to me was convinced he was watching the funniest movie of all time.
As predictable as the first half of “Parental Guidance” is, it becomes even more predictable in the lesser-entertaining second half, in which the “new school” of Scott and Tomei lecture the “old school” of Midler and Crystal on the consumption of sugar. I took it upon myself to write down a few lines from the equally lecture-y script, which reads something like, “Blah blah blah, you came to see a comedy but now that we have your attention there are many ways to discipline your kids, as long as you spend time with them and send them your love, blah blah blah, no one cares, the end.”
It’s just the kind of safe, innocuous crap Hollywood churns out once every Christmas so relatives have something to see when they come to town. And while the movie will be perfectly fine for Uncle Bob and Aunt Millie, I’d rather take a bat to the balls myself than sit through another one of these labored bait-and-switch comedies again.
★★ (out of ★★★★)
Rated PG for pratfalls. 104 minutes.
Director: Andy Fickman. Starring: Billy Crystal, Bette Midler.
Read all of Jesse Hoheisel’s reviews at afistfulofpopcorn.com.