[Screen It]

(2009) (Robert De Niro, Drew Barrymore) (PG-13)

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Dramedy: After his adult kids disappoint him when they cancel plans for their previously scheduled family get-together, a recently retired widower travels across the country for surprise visits to all of them.
In the Goode family, Frank (ROBERT DE NIRO) was the breadwinner, working his entire life applying PVC coating to telephone lines, while his wife raised the kids and thus stayed in better contact with them once they grew up and moved out. Now retired and a widower of less than a year, Frank has planned their first family get-together since his wife's death, and thus he's disappointed when they all cancel on him. Accordingly, and against his doctor's advice, Frank sets out on a cross-country road trip via bus and train to pay surprise visits to all of them.

The first stop is New York where he waits to meet his painter son David, admiring some of his work in the gallery below his place. When David never shows, Frank slips an envelope under his door and heads off to Chicago to see Amy (KATE BECKINSALE), an advertising exec. She's surprised to see her dad, but like her husband, Jeff (DAMIAN YOUNG), and their son, Jack (LUCIAN MAISEL), she doesn't have time to spend with him, what with already busy schedules.

After handing Amy her envelope, Frank is off to see her brother, Robert (SAM ROCKWELL), who Frank believes is a conductor but in reality is just a percussionist in the orchestra. Robert senses his dad isn't pleased with the discovery, while Frank begins to believe his kids might not be telling him the truth, especially when Robert says he's headed off to Europe with the other performers and thus doesn't have time to spend with him.

His sister, Rosie (DREW BARRYMORE), who's a dancer in shows in Vegas, does have time, but her seemingly too-good-to-be true lifestyle similarly raises red flags. The same holds true for her and her siblings seemingly hiding something about David from him. As Frank tries to figure out what's going on, he must also come to terms with the fact that his kids aren't as open with him as they were with their mother.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
It's a known fact that men and women's brains function in different ways, which would explain why they sometimes clash with and/or behave so differently from one another. For instance, most men's brains show more activity when it comes to analytical issues whereas the women display more as emotions come into play.

All of which would explain why many women can chat for hours with those of their own gender while men, once they've accomplished the small talk required to figure out how to fix something can then sit back and watch TV with other males and not utter much beyond brief commentary about whatever sporting event they might be viewing.

It also means that when it comes to parents -- at least of the older generation -- the mothers were the communicators who provided emotional support via communication while the fathers served as the facilitators you went to when a quick physical remedy was needed. Accordingly, as the kids would grow up into adults, they'd stay in better touch with their moms than their dads who'd start to feel like they were missing out on the latest news, updates and such.

For some, that would get worse as the years went on until the point that they felt more like distant relatives than next of kin. Frank Goode is one such man, and that familiar condition has only been exacerbated by the relatively recent death of his wife who knew the ins and outs of their children's lives, filtered said news and updates regarding them, and then fed that generally positive info to him. When his plans to get everyone together for the first time since the wife/mother's death go awry, he then decides to surprise all of the adult kids with impromptu visits, a mission that -- natch -- doesn't go as well as planned.

That's the underlying set-up of "Everybody's Fine," a dramedy that's far heavier on the drama than the comedy and could very well be -- despite the best of intentions and a good cast -- one of the more boring films you'll see all year. In fact, at our press screening there were a surprising number of attendees who got up and left (which usually only occurs at really bad and/or offensive movies), never to return as the pic plodded through its predictable plot without enough subtext and/or substance to make up for the slack.

Once the initial family reunion falls apart, the film - a remake of the 1990 movie "Stanno tutti bene" starring Marcello Mastroianni -- becomes something of a road trip flick as Frank (a decent but not terrific Robert De Niro, although he's thankfully playing normal rather than what's become of recent the exaggerated caricature version of his past characters) visits his kids (Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell and Drew Barrymore, all okay but vastly underused) and discovers revealing things about them and/or catches them in white lies designed to give him the titular impression.

Accordingly, we have the usual cinematic suspects along for the trip, including the obligatory bus and train travel montages as well as scenes featuring overhead conversations traveling along telephone lines. The purpose of them is twofold. For starters, it's supposed to be an ironic metaphor that the protagonist spent his entire career helping make those lines work, yet never really communicated with his kids.

The second is that some of those conversations are among the siblings regarding the fourth kid who's in some sort of trouble in Mexico and thus not at his NYC apartment when dad comes knocking. The mystery of that is supposed to keep us engaged -- as little tidbits of additional info are stated from time to time -- but that storytelling gambit is fairly weak, and thus robs the related emotional revelation late in the film of much needed gravitas.

Other running bits (gag-based and otherwise) including the protagonist always pulling his small suitcase over and across everything once he realizes it has a retractable handle that allows for such rolling rather than carrying; him always taking photos (with, natch, an old-fashioned, snapshot type of film camera); seeing the aftermath of emotional family loss (the 9/11 fence in NYC as well as a small roadside crash memorial); and having flashback memories of the kids when they were youngsters.

The latter, including a heart attack induced, picnic fantasy gathering of them (in their kid bodies, but with their current adult mindsets and knowledge) is supposed to show us that he still views them as kids who he can instruct, inform and/or protect as needed.

The fact that they've all grown up into beings he no longer recognizes or at least not into the people he thought they were is supposed to add more poignancy to the tale. For yours truly, none of that worked that well, at least in terms of emotionally engaging me, but maybe one needs to be a parent or adult child in a very similar boat to go along and connect with the flow. Okay, but nothing more and with the cast at least making the boredom somewhat bearable, "Everybody's Fine" rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed November 19, 2009 / Posted December 4, 2009

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