The In-Laws (2003) / Comedy-Action

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for suggestive humor, language, drug references and violence   
Running Time: 95 min.

Cast: Michael Douglas, Albert Brooks, Robin Tunney, Ryan Reynolds, Lindsay Sloane, Candice Bergen
Director:  Andrew Fleming
Screenplay: Andrew Bergman, Nat Mauldin, Ed Solomon

Review published May 24, 2003

Screenwriter Andrew Bergman wrote the original 1979 classic comedy, The In-Laws, to success, and has crafted a handful of quality comedies since then, blending comedy and crime in films like Fletch, The Freshman, Honeymoon in Vegas, and Striptease.  Still, not any people are intimately familiar with the work from 25 years ago, so the time seems right for a remake, but will it be as fresh and witty today?  Retooling the screenplay for today's audiences would lead you to conclude it won't be, as they have hired on Nat Mauldin (Doctor Dolittle) and Ed Solomon (Charlie's Angels, Super Mario Bros.), and taking the helm as director is Andrew Fleming (Dick, The Craft), directing a film heavy on action for the first time. 

Luckily, the film stars two professional actors in Michael Douglas (Wonder Boys, Traffic) and Albert Brooks (The Muse, Out of Sight), who always give solid performances even in the worst of films, so if the film is bad, it's probably not going to be that bad.   The film starts with Douglas as a James Bond type named Steve Tobias, reported to be a possible rogue agent of the CIA, getting involved in a deal which would see a virtually undetectable military submarine sold to one of the world's premiere arms dealers.  Steve is also the mostly absent father to his son Mark (Reynolds, Buying the Cow), who is about to become married to Melissa (Sloane, Bring It On), daughter of neurotic podiatrist, Jerry Peyser (Brooks).  Steve determines to become more involved with his son and his wedding, and while visiting the Peyser's at their home in Chicago, the FBI begins to suspect Steve is up to no good, leading them to conclude Jerry is much more sinister than your friendly neighborhood foot doctor.  Soon Jerry finds he is forced into playing the role of super-spy and tagging along with Steve on missions that would force him to do things he never does, like fly in airplanes and enter large buildings, and all the while the forthcoming wedding looks to be in further jeopardy due to their incredible antics.

I haven't seen the original film as of this writing, but I will wager that this remake of The In-Laws is not likely to replace the original film in the hearts and minds of its fans.  There is an awkwardness to the production, probably due to Fleming's inexperience handling special effects and action, with many scenes looking unnatural or cheaply done.  The script is a mixed bag, with some bits being laugh-out-loud hilarious but the constant need to make everyone eccentric tends to grate, as we've seen these kinds of stereotypical characters too often to laugh at any more.  However, it's pleasant to see Douglas play a completely irreverent character, and Brooks feels right at home playing a man that is never right at home in anything he does.  As contrived as the film is in trying to get obvious laughs, the likeability factor of the two leads helps tremendously in forgiving the most ridiculous of story developments.

Although The In-Laws is a fun film to watch a good deal of the time, it frustrates because it could have been much better.  The timing of the comedy doesn't crack as sharp as a screwball comedy would require, while the bits of action never feel real enough to truly thrill.  The saving grace are the stars of the film, and it's for their fans that the film is primarily recommended to.  All-in-all, The In-Laws garners enough chuckles to keep your interest most of the way, however don't expect that people will look back with as fond a remembrance 25 years from now as they do now for Arthur Hiller's original.

Qwipster's rating:

2003 Vince Leo