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Movie review: 'Parental Guidance' a misguided mess

The heavy-handed bid to assemble the elements of a family comedy fall flat amid crass antics and far too little warmth.

December 24, 2012|By Mark Olsen, Los Angeles Times
  • Billy Crystal and Bette Midler star in "Parental Guidance."
Billy Crystal and Bette Midler star in "Parental Guidance." (Phil Caruso, 20th Century…)

Things aren't what they used to be in the world of "Parental Guidance," not just with the kids but parents too.

In this lazy, smugly self-satisfied movie starring and produced by Billy Crystal, the comedian apparently wanted to say a thing or two about modern "helicopter" parenting techniques from the perspective of an old-school, been-there grandparent.

Crystal and Bette Midler portray the less-popular "other grandparents" to the three children of their only daughter, played by Marisa Tomei. (Tom Everett Scott is Tomei's husband; it is difficult to recall if his character has a name.)

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Tomei and Scott reluctantly call upon Midler and Crystal to watch their kids so the younger couple can take a trip away together. The children's highly regimented lifestyles immediately begin to fall apart upon the arrival of their new temp caretakers.

"Parental Guidance" is intended as an inoffensive diversion for multiple generations who have run out of post-holiday dinner chitchat, a fact underscored by its something-for-everyone cameo appearances.

There's skateboarder Tony Hawk, actor Gedde Watanabe (who played Long Duk Dong in "Sixteen Candles") and even former Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca (who gave up the legendary "The Giants Win the Pennant" home run).

Perhaps the whole family is also meant to enjoy the sight of Crystal being struck in the crotchal region with a baseball bat, causing him to vomit chili-dog onto a young boy?

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Midler seems wildly underutilized throughout. Only she, Tomei and Bailee Madison as Tomei's daughter inject a few precious moments of warmth.

The whole story seems geared to somehow proving that Crystal's character was right all along, that they could all do better with a magic combination of old-fashioned discipline and a little loosening up.

In Judd Apatow's new comedy "This Is 40," a mother and father tell their two children they'd like them to spend less time with their electronic devices and more time doing things like building forts or playing kick the can. The teenage daughter squeals with exasperation, "Nobody does that crap, it's 2012!"

As if to prove the point of how deeply, willfully out of touch the worldview of "Parental Guidance" really is, Crystal and Midler share a moment of rain-kissed reverie teaching their three grandchildren to play, you guessed it, kick the can. In a film set in 2012.

mark.olsen@latimes.com

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'Parental Guidance'

MPAA rating: PG for some rude humor

Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Playing: In general release

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