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This marriage is a complete mismatch

May 23, 2003|Gene Seymour | Newsday

Watching the remake of "The In-Laws" is like listening to a drawn-out, gruesomely inappropriate toast made at a posh wedding reception by a dissolute best man. No, even worse: It's like having a tin-eared DJ sampling John Philip Sousa and hillbilly funsters Homer and Jethro throughout the same reception.

If you think that blend is a train wreck, it's still more promising than this movie's pairing of Michael Douglas and Albert Brooks, cast in roles played to somewhat better effect 24 years ago by, respectively, Peter Falk and Alan Arkin. Even if you never saw the first version of "The In-Laws," you could easily imagine those two resourceful wise guys bouncing riffs off each other like ace jazz soloists.

Douglas and Brooks' comedic chemistry here can be measured in negative integers. Brooks predictably uses the role of terminally uptight podiatrist Jerry Peyser as a vessel for his bourgeois anal-retentive grump shtick, while Douglas inflates his oily, corruptible persona to outsized proportions as swashbuckling secret agent Steve Tobias. They are so out of sync with each other that they seem to be looking for different movies to take their acts, though neither makes you want to see those hypothetical films. Not even as an option to this one.

As in the original, Jerry and Steve are the proud papas of a soon-to-be-betrothed couple. Yet with days to go before Jerry's daughter Melissa (Lindsay Sloane) and Steve's son Marc (Ryan Reynolds) walk down the aisle, the two dads have yet to meet. The reason is made clear at the outset: While Jerry grimly lectures a patient about the perils of untreated fungus, Steve is facing more imminent danger in the Czech Republic, from whose authorities he narrowly escapes with his sexy young apprentice (Robin Tunney).

Steve glad-hands his way into the Peyser household while clumsily attempting to mix his patriarchal duties with his mission to scam a sybaritic arms dealer (David Suchet). This situation provides an excuse for director Andrew Fleming (whose credits include the much funnier 1999 farce "Dick") to toss Douglas and Brooks into elaborate, pointless set pieces that culminate in the gratuitous humiliation of Brooks' character.

Jokes at the expense of Jerry's "fanny pack" and the arms dealer's gay attraction to Jerry wither and drop like rotten fruit from a tree. Yet the film keeps tossing these and other dubious gags at your head to the point that you want to find the nearest medicine cabinet for relief. Even worse, the film wastes Candice Bergen as Steve's embittered ex-wife.

The only actor who comes through this mess with any dignity is Reynolds, who showed promise as a hip smoothie in last year's "National Lampoon's Van Wilder." When Reynolds' Marc warns Douglas' Steve to turn the volume down on his overbearing salesmanship to the Peysers, it's sage advice from someone who, unlike Douglas, knows his way around low comedy.


'The In-Laws'

MPAA rating: PG-13 for suggestive humor, language, some drug references and action violence.

Times guidelines: Occasionally crude semi-nudity and cartoonish action.

Michael Douglas...Steve Tobias

Albert Brooks...Jerry Peyser

Robin Tunney...Angela Harris

Ryan Reynolds...Marc Tobias

Candice Bergen...Judy Tobias

Franchise Pictures presents a Gerber Pictures production, in association with Furthur Films and MHF Erste Academy Films GmbH & Co. Produktions KG, released by Warner Bros. Director Andrew Fleming. Producers Bill Gerber, Elie Samaha, Bill Todman Jr., Joel Simon. Executive producers Andrew Stevens, Tracee Stanley, Oliver Hengst. Screenplay by Nat Maudlin and Ed Solomon. Cinematographer Alexander Gruszynski. Editor Mia Goldman. Costume designer Deborah Everton. Executive music producer Robert Sall. Production designer Andrew McAlpine. Art director Dennis Davenport. Set decorator Gord Sim. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes.

In general release.

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