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"THE IN-LAWS"
(2003) (Michael Douglas, Albert Brooks) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: A podiatrist learns that his pending in-law is a possible rogue CIA agent as the latter takes the former on a wild ride of espionage right before their kids' wedding.
PLOT:
Jerry Peyser (ALBERT BROOKS) is a conservative podiatrist who, along with his wife Katherine (MARIA RICOSSA), is looking forward to the marriage of their daughter, Melissa (LINDSAY SLOANE), to her boyfriend Mark (RYAN REYNOLDS).

Little does he know that his future in-law, Steve Tobias (MICHAEL DOUGLAS), isn't a copier salesman. Instead, he's a deep-cover CIA agent who, along with partner Angela Harris (ROBIN TUNNEY), is trying to take down Jean-Pierre Thibodoux (DAVID SUCHET), an international smuggler who's interested in a Russian sub named Olga.

On the night of their first meeting, Jerry learns of Steve's real profession and immediately wants to call off the wedding. It's not long, however, before he's targeted by FBI Agent Will Hutchins (RUSSELL ANDREWS) and his team who claim that Tobias is a rogue agent with own agenda. After Steven and Angela rescue Jerry, he soon finds himself traveling overseas where he meets the flamboyant but volatile Thibodoux who takes an instant and unwelcome liking to him.

From that point on, Jerry tries to stay out of harm's way and prepare for the upcoming nuptials as well as the arrival of Steve's bitter ex-wife, Judy (CANDICE BERGEN), all of which promise to make this a wedding no one will forget.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
As a general rule of thumb, I'm not a big fan and certainly not a proponent of remakes of previously existing films. That said, if one is going to ahead and do that, it's best not to pick a greatly well-known or beloved picture as the source material.

In that sense, writers Nat Mauldin ("Doctor Dolittle," "The Preachers Wife") and Ed Solomon ("Levity," "Charlie's Angels") and director Andrew Fleming ("Dick," "The Craft") could have done far worse in choosing the 1979 comedy, "The In-Laws" as their makeover target.

Although I recall seeing the film thirty-some years ago and remember enjoying it at the time (at a much younger age and less critical mindset), I don't recall much about it, beyond its stars being Peter Falk and Alan Arkin. Accordingly, and although cinema purists and fans of the original will probably disagree, I therefore didn't have a huge problem with this remake.

Following the basic gist of the original but with differences in the particulars (the dentist has been changed to a podiatrist, for instance), the film pits the deep cover CIA agent played by Michael Douglas ("It Runs in the Family," "Don't Say a Word") against the uptight foot doctor embodied by Albert Brooks ("Finding Nemo," "The Muse").

Their paths would never cross under normal day to day activities, but their kids are getting married and they obviously have to meet before the big day. Upon the discovery of the groom's father possibly being a spook, it's not difficult to see from where the comedy will stem as the two men, their professions and lifestyles will most certainly clash.

In theory, the more polar opposite the two characters, the greater the conflict and thus resultant humor will be. In one corner, we have Douglas' character, who's something of a carefree, by the seat of his pants sort who may or may not still be employed by The Company. In the other is Brooks' rigid, uptight and pessimistic foot man who isn't happy to learn what sort of family into which his daughter is marrying.

Both actors deliver fun and often funny performances. Douglas hasn't seemed this loose and spontaneous in a long time - possibly since the "Romancing the Stone" films - and it's nice seeing him in lighter form.

As far as Brooks, he's just playing a variation of the sort of neurotic but intelligent character he always does. That said, few can match him in such regards (Steve Martin comes to mind, but that's about it) and he delivers yet another terrific performance here. Whether it's his physical reaction to events or the amusing lines he gets from the screenwriters, Brooks is the best thing the film has to offer.

In fact, this is one of those pictures where its various parts are far better than the film as a whole. Being a comedy, little if any of it is supposed to be taken seriously, but as an overall package, its deficient parts drag down its overall quality. Various script tweaks here and there not only could have fixed the problems, but also tightened and sharpened the overall effort.

While the film is obviously mainly about the two men, one of its weaker points is with the secondary characters and their individual plotlines. That's especially true for the engaged couple played by Ryan Reynolds ("Van Wilder," "Dick") and Lindsay Sloane ("Bring It On," TV's "Grosse Pointe").

While their parts are sparsely written, various revelations and tense chemistry between their fathers do lead to some comedic frustrations. Yet, there aren't enough of them and those that are present don't do as good a job of hitting the funny bone as they should.

Maria Ricossa ("Map of the World," "Harvard Man") and especially Candice Bergen ("A View From the Top," "Sweet Home Alabama") are pretty much wasted as the leads' spouses. Liked the pending newlyweds, so much more could have been done with their characters such as siding with their husbands or with each other against them.

Robin Tunney ("Vertical Limit," "Cherish") plays Douglas' constantly irritated sidekick, but it's David Suchet ("Foolproof," "Live From Baghdad") who steals the show as a flamboyant and volatile smuggler who's attracted to Jerry (much to his dismay and our enjoyment of watching Brooks do the squirm dance).

Funny at times with some decent comedy performances from the leads, but suffering from a weak overriding script and unnecessarily overblown and drawn out finale, "The In-Laws" generates enough mindless laughs to compensate for and occasionally overcome its various deficiencies and problems, but not enough to make it great. It rates as a 5 out of 10.




Reviewed May 8, 2003 / Posted May 23, 2003


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