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"PARENTAL GUIDANCE"
(2012) (Billy Crystal, Bette Midler) (PG)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: A grandma and grandpa are called on to take care of their three demanding grandkids when their Type A parents go away on a trip.
PLOT:
Artie and Diane Decker (BILLY CRYSTAL and BETTE MIDLER) are a couple of grandparents who live in Fresno, Calif., far away from their daughter, Alice (MARISA TOMEI), and son-in-law, Phil (TOM EVERETT SCOTT), in Atlanta. Artie has been a lifelong baseball announcer in the minor leagues, but has never been able to break into the Major League broadcasting booth. His chances appear to be zero when he is fired from his job as play-by-play announcer for the local Fresno team.

Out of work and contemplating their next stage of life, Artie and Diane agree to babysit Alice and Phil's three children so they can go on a trip. There is Harper (BAILEE MADISON), Artie and Diane's junior-high age granddaughter who is secretly miserable trying to be a young violinist; Turner (JOSHUA RUSH), the middle child with a speech impediment who is being bullied at school; and Barker (KYLE HARRISON BREITKOPF), the youngest child who is all full of mischief.

The problem is Alice still has unresolved issues with her parents, and she doesn't want them to take care of her kids in the manner and style she and Phil do. She doesn't believe in Artie and Diane's old-school way of tough love. Alice makes excuses to stay behind and not join Phil. At the same time, Artie uses Alice's connections at ESPN to try and score a network announcing gig. As Harper's big recital draws near, tensions among all the family members come to a boil.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
I'm a bit torn in reviewing "Parental Guidance." It's really not a good movie. It's like three or four episodes of a Disney Channel family sitcom projected onto the big screen. But considering everything going on in the world right now, the tragedy in Connecticut, the endless talk of the impending "financial cliff," and the general negativity that so many are feeling this holiday season it's not the worst thing to go see a film that is perfectly safe, wholesome, and innocuous.

This flick is the cinematic equivalent of the tiny, sparse Christmas tree Charlie Brown buys in his annual holiday cartoon. It's a small, unremarkable film in a crowded marketplace of bigger, grander, more ambitious movies. All it really needed was a little love - translation: a couple more passes at the screenplay - to make it something special.

Billy Crystal and Bette Midler star as grandparents Artie and Diane Decker. Artie is a play-by-play announcer for the minor league baseball team in Fresno, Calif. After the last game of the season, he is fired to make way for a more youthful broadcasting team. Suddenly, it's the perfect time for him and Diane to travel to Atlanta and spend a week taking care of their three grandchildren while their daughter Alice (Marisa Tomei) and son-in-law Phil (Tom Everett Scott) go on a trip.

Problems ensue when Artie and Diane's old-school, tough-love approach to parenting clashes with Alice and Phil's New-Age, 21st century style of coddling and giving kids "choices." Alice holds off on joining Phil. In doing so, she reveals some long-simmering tensions with Artie. Alice and Phil's daughter, Harper (Bailee Madison) is stressed out practicing for an upcoming violin recital that she believes will determine her entire future. Meanwhile, their middle son Turner (Joshua Rush) is being bullied at school for his speech impediment. And youngest son, Barker (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf), is coming to rely too much on his imaginary kangaroo friend, Carl.

Artie and Diane want Harper to lighten up and enjoy being a teenager. Artie is perplexed that Turner attends a speech therapy class in which the teacher spends no time working on his stutter. And Barker is precocious with a capital P, always getting into trouble and often at Carl's urging. Artie finds himself bribing the kids often to not tell Alice the things he is allowing them to get away with. At the same time, he is looking to use Alice's ESPN connections to get a new announcing gig.

"Parental Guidance" is a reasonably well-constructed family film. It moves from Point A to Point B to Point C in a perfectly logical, linear fashion. And every problem that is set up in the first 15 minutes of the film is resolved in the last 15 minutes right on Screenplay 101 schedule. I just wish it was funnier and smarter. I wish it had better production values, more interesting locations, and quirkier personalities. It's one of those flicks where you just know two or more of the characters will break into song at some point as only stock movie characters in sitcom-y movies do.

Crystal and Midler are fine in their roles. They're both professional film actors, so they can sell scenes that most other performers just couldn't. And because Crystal is one of the film's producers, it looks like he had a tight rein on what he would and would not do on screen. So he never flat-out embarrasses himself too badly a la Brendan Fraser, Robin Williams, or John Travolta has done in the past in similar pablum.

Bottom line, if you need a movie to take children to that doesn't contain anything overly objectionable in terms of language, sex, and violence (Crystal ralphing on a kid after he's been hit in the crotch notwithstanding), it's pretty much the only such flick in theaters right now. The fact that it is the only such entertainment, though, is really kind of sad and probably just one more thing wrong in this silly, screwed-up world. I give it a 4.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed December 20, 2012 / Posted December 25, 2012


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