THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"THE IN-LAWS"

I’m a believer that some movies can be successfully remade, and others absolutely can not. The In-Laws is one of those that can not. The 1979 original is a comedy classic and was one of my most-watched movies growing up. Although it had an ingeniously witty script by an in-his-prime Andrew Bergman and sharp direction from Arthur Hiller, the original worked because of the very specific chemistry between stars Peter Falk and Alan Arkin. The actors brought a unique sensibility to their pairing that can never be duplicated. (Even they tried and failed when they reteamed for the dreary Big Trouble.) Hollywood, in its continued insistence on cannibalizing itself, has nevertheless remade The In-Laws, and the results are nothing short of disastrous.

Michael Douglas gets the Peter Falk role. He plays Steve Tobias, a CIA agent whose son (Ryan Reynolds) is marrying the daughter of Chicago podiatrist Jerry Peyser (Albert Brooks, in the Alan Arkin role). Tobias pretends to be a Xerox salesman, but soon after their first meeting, Jerry accidentally overhears him discussing the black market sale of a nuclear submarine. Tobias has no choice but to drag Jerry along on this “deep undercover” mission to stop the sale, which is scheduled to coincide with the wedding. What he doesn’t bargain for is that Jerry is neurotic anyway and doesn’t take well to things like flying, gunplay, or elevators.

The mission leads both men to France where they meet up with repressed homosexual crime kingpin Jean-Pierre Thibodoux (David Suchet) who is interested in the submarine. Tobias tries to raid the guy’s computer, while Jerry is stuck pretending to be a well-endowed mystery figure known as “Fat Cobra.” During the few moments he can get away, Jerry tries to call his family back home for help, but no one believes his wild stories (and, really, why would they?). This leads to a truly bad scene in which he phones home from Barbra Streisand’s jet, which Tobias has inexplicably stolen. When Jerry tells his wife and daughter where he is, they never think to ask what in the world he is doing on the private plane of a major superstar. They just want to know what Babs is like.

The In-Laws takes the same basic premise as the original, yet spins it off in some different ways. In theory, that’s a smart idea. Unfortunately, none of the ideas the remake comes up with are anywhere near as funny or sly as the material in the original. For example, the gay French criminal is a poor substitute for Richard Libertini’s deranged South American general with the collection of black velvet “artwork.” And instead of inspired bits like the famous “serpentine” routine, the new version offers insipid comic/action scenes, such as the one where Tobias and Jerry parachute off the top of a skyscraper. The entire spirit of the original is lost.

Although I am a fan of both Michael Douglas and Albert Brooks, they can’t pull this material off. Douglas fails to capture the comically essential passive-aggressive joy with which Peter Falk’s CIA agent drug his hapless new family member into the mission. Falk played the role with a little of that Columbo absentmindedness, as though he intentionally forgot to convey the inherent dangers of spy work simply because it was so routine for him. To fill the Alan Arkin role, there’s probably no one better suited than Brooks, but he only gets half the joke. Arkin played his character (a dentist named Sheldon) as not just neurotic but scared. That was the essence of the role: Sheldon was downright panicky about dying on this mission he had nothing to do with. Brooks simply plays Jerry as being neurotic over his loss of control in the situation. There’s no fear. That renders his performance far less effective.

Some might say it’s not fair to compare this film to the original, but I would disagree. If you’re going to remake a classic, you’re setting yourself up for comparison and presumably you know that. Even if this were not a remake, it would not be any better than it is. The simple fact is that the movie is too stuffed with contrived, overly broad humor that just isn’t funny. The movie’s final sequence – involving Tobias and Jerry trying to stop a noise-activated missile from striking their children’s wedding – is typical of how strained and silly the humor is.

There is one really good gag involving a large tidal wave, and Albert Brooks squeezes out a few amusing one-liners. Overall though, The In-Laws is stunningly unfunny. This is a pathetic remake of a great movie.

( 1/2 out of four)


The In-Laws is rated PG-13 for suggestive humor, language, some drug references and action violence. The running time is 1 hour and 38 minutes.

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