One of the biggest laughs in The In-Laws comes when Albert Brooks, stuck in a hot tub with an international arms dealer aggressively hitting on him, makes an excuse and exits the waters, revealing the red thong he is wearing and his bare, glistening buns. The audience at the sneak preview howled, while I sat, thinking, “Albert Brooks mooning people for laughs?? What is wrong with this picture?”
The answer, of course, is that nothing is wrong. The remarkable Mr. Brooks simply chose to appear in a broad comedy for a change of pace and I was being a snob, reacting like a standard issue elitist. You see, broad comedies — those employing large amounts of slapstick or other physical humor — tend to get written off by guys like me. Once in a while a Blazing Saddles or There’s Something About Mary comes along and we all embrace it, but for the most part, we tend to sneer and make rude remarks. Well, not this week.
If Albert Brooks, one of the most gifted comics of all time, decides that physical comedy is OK, I’m certainly not going to cop attitude about it. And I swear I will maintain this outlook even when I review Jim Carrey in Bruce Almighty, which I can’t do this week, by the way, because the geniuses at Universal Pictures insisted on scheduling the sneak preview a few hours after my deadline. But I digress.
The In-Laws is a sort-of remake of the 1979 film that starred Peter Falk and Alan Arkin. This edition, directed by Andrew Fleming (the man behind Dick, the 1999 Watergate goof), pairs Brooks with Michael Douglas and makes some substantial departures from the original.
Dr. Jerry Peyser (Brooks), a mild-mannered podiatrist with a slew of phobias, is orchestrating the upcoming wedding of his daughter Melissa (Lindsay Sloane) to Mark Tobias (Ryan Reynolds of Van Wilder fame). Enter Mark’s father, secret agent Steve Tobias (Douglas). Depending on who is doing the talking, Steve is either a CIA agent loyal to his government or a rogue agent who must be stopped.
Along with his partner Angela (Robin Tunney, always ready to deliver a karate kick to Jerry), he is working on a deal involving illegal arms shipments and a stolen submarine anchored in Lake Michigan just outside of Chicago. Unfortunately, Jerry is in the wrong place at the wrong time and gets hauled into Steve’s insane mission.
I won’t spoil the gags: Suffice to say that Jerry must deal with all of his phobias while being pursued by FBI agents, numerous henchmen and Jean-Pierre Thibodoux (David Suchet, jittery, dangerous and amusing), a homicidal French arms dealer who insists that he detests homosexuality even as he professes his overpowering love and lust for Jerry. What’s a poor foot doctor to do?
The structure of the screenplay reduces the bride and groom to supporting player status, but Reynolds and Sloane get a few good comic moments. Holding down the home front is Katherine Peyser (Maria Ricossa), who has little to do except look fretful, though Candice Bergen makes the most of her few scenes as Steve’s wrathful ex-wife, Judy.
While the efforts of the supporting cast (especially Suchet) are impressive, this is a two man show. Michael Douglas stays in full gung-ho mode through most of the picture, which works fine. Late in the film, when the screenplay runs out of gas, so does Douglas, which is more or less appropriate to the arc of his character.
The real strength of the film, however, comes from the amazing Albert Brooks. Long the master of shocked reactions, outrage and self-pity, Brooks does everything right. His line readings are flawless and most of the funniest moments in the film come from him.
But, alas, the script is not as sharp as it could be and too many segments of the story are manic rather than comic. Still, you could do a lot worse than The In-Laws. As physical comedies go, it’s not bad; not bad at all.