"Parental Guidance" is silly, sappy and sentimental to the point of being schmaltzy, but darned if this family-friendly film doesn't tug at the heart a bit during the holiday season of generations gathering together.
I can recall Billy Crystal's stand-up act from decades ago, and it includes him portraying an old Jewish man - a role that he is now playing on a daily basis at age 64.
Based on an idea Crystal developed after baby-sitting his grandchildren, the film is far too often an excuse for Crystal to break into his latest stand-up material - now for the Geritol set - and call it movie dialogue.
Billy Crystal, Bette Midler,
Marisa Tomei, Tom Everett
Scott, Bailee Madison
Tulsa, Cinemark Broken Arrow,
Starworld 20, RiverWalk,
Owasso, Eton Square, Sand
Springs, Moviestar Cinema
1 hour, 44 minutes
PG (some rude humor)
(on a scale of zero
to four stars)
For the first half-hour, it seems that almost every sentence from the mouths of Artie Decker (Crystal) and his wife, Diane (Bette Midler), should be followed by a rim shot.
He's a just-fired baseball announcer and she's a homemaker, but the pair act more like a Jewish comedy team fresh from the Catskills.
The pair thought of as the "other grandparents" who rarely see their extended family are preparing to baby-sit their daughter's three children for five days, setting up a culture clash of old-school parenting vs. modern-day "helicopter parent" methods of conversing, disciplining and social structure.
It sounds so different from the days of simpler rules - clean your room, go outside and play, show good manners - and that's the one-joke theme of the movie, to poke fun at those parents planning their children's futures while they attend preschool and coaching in athletic events where no one keeps score and every game ends in a tie.
The parents depicted by Marisa Tomei and Tom Everett Scott are taken to an extreme for those grandparents always lost in wonder at what younger generations find so fascinating about their gadgetry: The children's father has invented an interactive "smarthouse" product (think home GPS) that voices who has entered the home, tells them when a toilet is overflowing and probably reminds the kids to floss.
This generation-gap comedy works to a degree because Midler plays so well off not only Crystal, but also Tomei as their daughter (who otherwise looks too scatterbrained throughout the movie) and Bailee Madison as the oldest grandchild, a 12-year-old full of stress about her violin studies and curious about boys.
"Parental Guidance" is also passable as holiday entertainment for gathered families because Madison and the other young actors offer a little something for little ones (though they won't get half of Crystal's jokes) to go with the material aimed at older audiences.
But only a little something. It's more than a little sad to watch Crystal and Midler work so hard to sell this well-worn script.
The joke set-up/punchline material here is so often so tired that I managed an occasional smile to go with a couple of good laughs.
The movie is too often a case of situations occurring that we can relate to as parents but which are not made funny simply through recognition.
At moments in "Parental Guidance" Crystal proves to still be quick-witted, but sometimes Grandpa Billy looks like he needs a nap more than a continuing career.
Too strong? No, not for an old guy who shows that he prefers tough love to the pervasive coddling in today's society.
Original Print Headline: Crystal, Midler grind out sappy family comedy
Michael Smith 918-581-8479