Friday, May 21, 2004

Movie: The In-Laws (2003)

When watching a remake, it’s only fair to keep comparisons to a minimum. Particularly when the original is a personal favorite, featuring a pearl of a script by Andrew Bergman and two actors (Peter Falk and Alan Arkin) with inspired chemistry. When the word ‘serpentine’ in any context will produce guffaws. When you will sometimes ask “Did we hit the little boy on Sixth Avenue?” for no reason. That doesn’t matter here. You’ve got to play fair and judge the new version on its own terms.

Michael Douglas plays the Falk role ... whoops, my bad, let me start over.

Michael Douglas plays a self-confident secret agent and Albert Brooks is a neurotic. (Maybe they put this movie together over the holidays when the casting agencies were closed.) In the days leading up to their children’s wedding, Brooks gets sucked into Douglas’ globetrotting exploits.

Andrew Fleming directs in default comedy style: bright lights on whatever’s in the center of the frame and wall-to-wall pop favorites. (Note to Fleming: it’s bad form to open your movie with the title song from another. Especially when said movie is LIVE AND LET DIE.)

Stars who dominate in drama often seem eager to share the spotlight in comedy. Maybe they’re worried about getting laughs. Giving more screen time to Douglas’ son makes a certain amount of sense, and Ryan Reynolds channels Chevy Chase to give the character some buoyancy. But what should be a two-hander showcasing the leads becomes cluttered with supporting characters like Douglas’ spygirl protégé and his ex-wife.

There are some funny bits, including a tour of Barbra Streisand’s plane. Brooks can never be counted out; few other actors can get comic mileage out of their pronunciation of the word ‘laminate.’ I did not need to see him in a thong, however. The peerless character actor David Suchet gives the movie a huge boost with his portrayal of a French arms smuggler who’s been reading Deepak Chopra and who is absolutely not gay. He’s almost as funny as the 1979 film’s villain, a Latin American dictator obsessed with Senor Wences. (Sorry. I said I wasn’t going to do that.)

At least this movie has the good sense to end on a prison rape joke. In comedy, you want to send everybody out on an up note.

TV Commercials: Shrek 2

Until I read David Edelstein in Slate, I thought I was the only person who found the first movie an unbearable smugfest. Edelstein praises the sequel, but I don’t think I have to go. After seeing characters from the movie endorse Sierra Mist, Baskin-Robbins and M&Ms – all in the space of 75 minutes - I’m pretty sure I’m covered.

TV Commercial: Western Union

This ad offers two case studies: a man sends his brother enough to cover the electric bill before his lights are turned off, and an African immigrant wires money home to pay for his son’s education. There’s no attempt to sex up the company’s service, nobody using Western Union to file last-minute bids on the Conan Doyle papers at Christie’s. Such honesty is Sierra Mist refreshing. It makes me wish I had somebody to send money to.

Miscellaneous: Links

A peek inside three of the greatest minds of this generation. Nick Hornby on listening to rock as you get older. David Mamet on the insanity of the Hollywood development system. And courtesy of Gawker, Regis Philbin on how to succeed in showbiz. (In a nutshell: be lucky.)