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Unlikely, and that's the point

In 'The In-Laws,' Michael Douglas and Albert Brooks clown and carouse in the best tradition of comedy teams.

May 18, 2003|Lewis Beale | Special to The Times

NEW YORK — Abbott and Costello. Rowan and Martin. Hope and Crosby. Burns and Allen.

Douglas and Brooks?

Michael Douglas and Albert Brooks haven't exactly joined the pantheon of immortal comic teams, but they give it their best shot in the Warner Bros. film "The In-Laws," opening Friday. Based very loosely on the 1979 comedy starring Peter Falk and Alan Arkin, the movie features Brooks as an uptight Chicago podiatrist who, because their children are about to get married, becomes involved with wild and crazy CIA operative Michael Douglas.

On the eve of the wedding, the two are forced to team up in an effort to stop a French smuggler and arms dealer (played by English actor David Suchet) from acquiring a nuclear submarine. Douglas, 58, mugs for all he's worth in a shamelessly entertaining, hammy performance, while Brooks, 55, adds his familiar whiny neurotic persona to the mix -- and in one of "The In-Law's" wildest scenes, steps out of a hot tub wearing only a thong.

In person, the two stars seem to play off each other as well as they do on-screen. Eating he-man lunches of rare sirloin, Caesar salad and iced tea, they discussed the film, their collaboration and why Brooks was willing to show his butt on-screen.

The 1979 original is a revered cult film. Do you worry about going into something like this?

Brooks: I did, more than Michael. He's a little more confident.

Douglas: Ignorant.

Brooks: The premise of two different guys meeting at a wedding you can't own for life. For that reason, I think this is allowed to be redone.

Douglas: I had seen it a long time ago, and there was no similarity to the original, except maybe for our two characters. And I thought with the different titles ...

Brooks: Originally it was called " 'Til Death Do Us Part," then "The Wedding Party." There was a six-month period when it was "The Wedding Party." So here's the conversation: "Are you in a movie?" "Yeah." "What's it called?" "Wedding Party." "Uh-huh. What's it about?" "It's a remake of 'The In-Laws' " "Oh!" So you just give it up. You just do it.

Albert, do you ever get tired of playing the whiny neurotic type?

Brooks: I don't look at these things as whiny neurotic. This guy to me is a pretty normal guy. He's not bothering anybody, he's got a family, he's got a business.

Douglas: I think of it as urban angst.

Brooks (to Douglas): I don't think this guy's whiny, do you?

Douglas: You know, "the food's burnt," this and that ...

Brooks: I've played other parts too, but they were movies nobody saw. "My First Mister" was a clothing salesman dying of cancer. The part in "Out of Sight" was Michael Milken. This is sort of bringing that guy to the most amount of theaters I've ever been involved in. I've never brought the Whiny Neurotic Guy to 3,000 theaters.

In your case, Michael, you're so out there. Is a part like this liberating?

Douglas: I just wanted to do something fun, and loose, and different, not to do another psychological thriller where I try to kill my wife or something. Andy Fleming [the director] made it one of the nicest experiences I've ever had working on a picture, and for this kind of picture, that's the kind of image you want. I don't work well in a comedy where there's a lot of pressure.

So it was a chance to do something different, and I haven't done a buddy picture in awhile.

How do you describe your process, in terms of how you develop the character and how you work with each other?

Brooks: In my own mind, I have to find a way to convince myself that it's the podiatrist falling off the building, not Albert. And you may see it or not, it doesn't matter to me; I have to do it or I can't show up to work. My process is how to ground this broader comedy that I'm used to ...

[At this point we're interrupted by the very loud ringing of Douglas' cell phone. It's a call from his wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones. Douglas tells her he's in the middle of an interview and will call back. When he hangs up, Brooks says, "By the way. Did you talk to your wife today?"].

... You have to keep in mind who you're playing. There's a moment in the movie I like -- I'm on the chaise longue with David Suchet, and he says his foot hurts, and as nervous as I am, I say, "Let me take a look at it."

Michael, you're so manic in the picture. Sometimes I felt I was watching a spy spoof like "Our Man Flint." What do you need to do?

Douglas: I kind of look at it externally. What is my responsibility to make the movie work? I look at pace, how Albert's character is. Do I create a threat in a scene? Suspense? An edge? And what the pace of the piece is.

Both your roles could be so over the top. How do you keep them from getting that way?

Douglas: This is not a general area, for me, broad comedy. So it was awkward for me to get broad or big.

Brooks: Me, too. 'Cause I'd never been in a thong before. I'm hanging out there by a thread, too.

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