A thinly scripted family comedy, "Parental Guidance" is filled with the kind of embarrassing situations people go to the movies to forget about. It's essentially an unofficial remake of John Hughes' 1989 comedy "Uncle Buck", minus the warmth and good humor of that film. This is too bad because "Parental Guidance" has a solid cast of seasoned Hollywood performers. I wanted to rescue them from this movie.
This is Billy Crystal's first starring role since 2002's "Analyze That". I assume what drew him to the movie was the chance to play a sports broadcaster. He's a lifelong fan of the Yankees, and is famous for doing impersonations of announcers like Howard Cosell and Phil Rizzuto. Unfortunately, he spends precious little time doing play-by-play in "Parental Guidance". He should have demanded more scenes in the broadcast booth before signing onto this project.
Crystal plays Artie Decker, the voice of Minor League baseball team the Fresno Grizzlies. Even though he's nearing retirement age, Artie still harbors dreams of announcing in the big leagues for the San Francisco Giants. Those dreams are dashed when Artie is fired, which means he has plenty of time on his hands when he and his wife, Diane (Bette Midler), are asked to look after their grandkids for the week.
Artie and Diane haven't seen the little ones for almost a year, and their daughter, Alice (Marisa Tomei), is initially very reluctant to ask them to babysit. Her standoffish attitude toward her parents never makes a whole lot of sense. In "Uncle Buck", we understood why the parents had misgivings about asking for help from the title character, an unemployed gambling addict. Compared to him, Artie and Diane are model citizens.
For reasons that are flimsy at best, Alice stays at home in Atlanta for half the week while her husband, Phil (Tom Everett Scott), vacations on his own. It's another example of how poorly the movie has been conceived. "Uncle Buck" kept things pretty basic in the story department, simply showing Buck looking after his brother's brood, but John Candy's outsize personality made it work. Even less happens in "Parental Guidance", and very little of it pays off in a satisfying way. For instance, Alice and Phil's tween daughter, Harper (Bailee Madison), spends the entire movie practicing the violin, setting up what has got to be the most anti-climactic recital in the history of movies.
Midler makes the most of a script that gives her zero good lines. She does a better job than Tomei at faking her way through mediocre material. Tomei looks like one of those traumatized people you sometimes see being interviewed on the nightly news. Crystal earns a few chuckles (my guess is that he improvised the movie's best lines), but he also has his fair share of embarrassing moments. The scene where he sings about "doody" in a public men's room is one of his career low-lights, and don't even get me started on the painfully annoying scene where Artie shows up for an audition for the X-Games dressed like a youngster from the '80s.
Page 2 of 2 - The movie makes a predictable turn toward sentimentality in its late innings. My reaction to this was basically the same as Artie's reaction to the horror movie "Saw", which his grandson, Turner (Joshua Rush), cons him into watching. The best thing I can say about "Parental Guidance" is that, unlike "Saw", there's nothing scary or objectionable in it, unless you count the violent death of an imaginary kangaroo named Carl.
"Parental Guidance" is playing this weekend at the Augusta Historic Theatre, 523 State Street. Showtime is 7:30pm on Saturday and 2pm on Sunday. Tickets are $6.
Stephen is an AHS graduate who studied film and journalism in college. He lives in Wichita. He thinks Billy Crystal will bounce back later this year when he reprises his role as Mike Wazowski in the Pixar sequel "Monsters University".