The In-Laws Review

The 1979 comedy The In-Laws has a considerable following but it’s not really much of a movie. The comic chemistry between Peter Falk and Alan Arkin makes it worth watching but Arthur Hiller’s somnolent direction kills some potentially funny scenes and the script is very uneven. Why on earth anyone thought it should be remade is a question I couldn’t even begin to answer, but that’s exactly what’s happened. The 2003 version of The In-Laws manages the difficult task of being even less distinguished than the original and wastes a fine cast on a script which needed several more drafts before filming began.

In broad terms, the new film follows the outline of the original. Albert Brooks plays Dr Jerry Peyser, a podiatrist whose daughter is marrying Marc Tobias (Reynolds), son of the distinctly strange Steve (Douglas). Steve claims to be a photocopier salesman but we know that he’s really an undercover CIA agent. When Jerry becomes aware of Steve’s key mission – to entrap French arms dealer Thibodoux (Suchet) – he embarks, unwillingly, on a wild ride in which he’s chased by government agents, suspected of being a particularly well endowed criminal and nearly sees his daughter’s wedding day ruined.

At one point in The In-Laws, Albert Brooks says to Michael Douglas “You’re just an old guy running around pretending to be young !” This is one of the more amusing moments in the film because it’s so patently true. With his blonde rinse and close-cropped hair, Douglas is obviously trying to look ten years younger. This may possibly be intentional and I hope it is, because in recent films such as A Perfect Murder, Douglas has shown signs of ageing gracefully. In that film, he was such a richly enjoyable villain that he acted everyone else off the screen and it would be depressing to think that he’s willing to go back to roles he grew out of during the past decade. What’s more surprising in this film is that his usual acuity with comedy seems to have deserted him. He mugs, shouts and laughs hysterically and doesn’t so much throw lines away as noisily shred them.

More worrying however is what’s happened to Albert Brooks. Back in the 1980s, Brooks was one of the funniest men in the world and films like Modern Romance and Lost In America are still guaranteed to lift my spirits whenever I give them a spin. His improvised dialogue perked up Unfaithfully Yours no end and his performance in Broadcast News was a thing of wonder and would have walked it to the Oscar had it not been for a sentimental award for Sean Connery. But something has gone wrong here and it must be to do with the film because Brooks was on his best form in his voiceover for Finding Nemo. To be fair, when he gets a rare good line, he makes the most of it and gets a laugh. But that’s not enough. One problem is that the character is so one-dimensional that he becomes intensely annoying, with Brooks doing his patented whiny act to the point of seeming very irritating. Another is that there’s a lot of slapstick here and physical comedy is not one of his talents. Nor does he click too well with Douglas. The two men don’t establish the kind of rapport which Falk and Arkin had and that fatally cripples the film.

This film seems to have some kind of identity crisis. At some points, it’s a spy-movie spoof, at others it tries to be a serious action movie, then it’s a black comedy, then it’s a sentimental buddy movie. None of these genres is successfully attempted and the last one is disastrous. It’s not just sentimental, it’s lachrymose with ‘sad’ music and artificial moments of bonding which never convince. Even worse is to come when our two dim heroes decide that they need to learn how to become good parents to their boring offspring. Director Andrew Fleming never manages to find the right tone for the film with one exception. There’s a duologue between Albert Brooks and David Suchet late into the film which gets a comic rhythm going and suggests that this movie could have been a good deal better. Fleming has shown in the past that he isn’t a bad director with the right subject but none of his previous movies have shown any evidence of an aptitude for action comedy. I imagine this was an attempt to broaden his range but I think it was the wrong project.

So what can we salvage from this misbegotten project ? Well, there are some damn good songs on the soundtrack, ranging from Paul McCartney to B.J.Thomas, even if they’re usually used badly. We also get a few nice bitchy moments from Candice Bergan as Douglas’s bitchy ex-wife and as the young couple, Ryan Reynolds and Lindsay Sloane have an appealing freshness. The most entertaining actor in the cast is David Suchet who clearly enjoys playing a gay French arms dealer even if he’s not given much of any note to do. Using a variation on his Poirot accent and a splendidly fussy little walk, Suchet brings class and charm to a film which desperately needs both. Otherwise, for sheer weight of laughs you’d be a lot better getting hold of the original. It’s a badly made film but Peter Falk and Alan Arkin are funny enough to overcome even Arthur Hiller, most daunting of directorial obstacles. I’d call the remake a wasted opportunity but, to be honest, there wasn’t really an opportunity in the first place.

The Disc

You can’t make butter with a toothpick and, thankfully, Warners haven’t tried in this particular instance. The DVD of The In-Laws is a respectable, nicely transferred version of a film which doesn’t deserve any special treatment. The bonus materials are both limited and of limited interest, but if you do happen to enjoy the movie then you’ll probably appreciate them.

The film is transferred in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and has been anamorphically enhanced. As you’d expect from such a recent film, the transfer is pretty damn flawless. The colours are rich, there is plenty of fine detail and I didn’t spot any problems with artefacting. The slightly soft appearance of some scenes is obviously a choice of the cinematographer and has been reproduced beautifully.

The soundtrack is Dolby Digital 5.1 and is very good. Although not perhaps the kind of film you might expect to be an exciting sound experience, there is a surprising amount going on here. Plenty of surround effects during the action sequences, directional dialogue and nicely enveloping music throughout. Occasionally, some of the dialogue seems to be a little low in the mix but that’s the only problem.

There are a few bonus features offered on this release. Andrew Fleming offers us a running commentary which is engaging, intelligent and rather more interesting than some of the scenes he’s supposed to be telling us about. We also get a gag reel, which is about as unfunny as any I’ve ever seen, and three additional or alternate scenes. None of these is anything to write home about and they are presented in non-anamorphic 1.85:1. The ‘Multiple Takes With Albert Brooks’ feature sounds promising, especially if you’re a Brooks fan, but is actually hugely disappointing and doesn’t really showcase Brooks’ improvisational abilities in the way one might have expected. Finally, we get theatrical trailers for this film and the 1979 original. Incidentally, even the trailer for the original is funnier than the remake.

There are 26 chapter stops and English subtitles are provided for the main feature, the multiple takes of Albert Brooks and the additional scenes.

The In-Laws isn’t totally worthless but it could have been a lot funnier than it is and, given how little money it grossed, I suspect even Warner Brothers are wondering why they bothered. The DVD is well presented but is only worth buying if you really enjoyed the film. Otherwise, possibly worth a rental if you like the stars.

The In-Laws is released to buy on the 26th January

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