Mark Reviews Movies

Father Figures


1 Star (out of 4)

Director: Lawrence Sher

Cast: Ed Helms, Owen Wilson, Glenn Close, Terry Bradshaw, J.K. Simmons, Christopher Walken, Katie Aselton, Ving Rhames, Jessica Gomes, June Squibb

MPAA Rating: R (for language and sexual references throughout)

Running Time: 1:53

Release Date: 12/22/17

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Review by Mark Dujsik | December 22, 2017

It's clear that Father Figures doesn't want to take its humor too far, because, in the end, the movie has other things in mind. That makes it a uniquely strange experience. Here's a comedy, written by Justin Malen, that features some very over-the-top moments and comic setups, but director Lawrence Sher constantly downplays or undercuts them. It's difficult to imagine that some of these jokes would work, even if they were played with the sort of manic attitude that they obviously demand. Then again, it's also difficult to imagine these jokes being played in a frenzied manner. The movie we get is so stilted that our imaginations are too busy thinking of better ways we could be spending our time.

Here are the basics: Twin brothers Peter (Ed Helms) and Kyle (Owen Wilson) are as different as can be. Peter is an uptight doctor, who specializes in prostrate examinations. We know that the movie isn't off to a great start when it opens with one of those exams, and the movie itself seems to groan at the only jokes it can devise. Peter is divorced. His son thinks his father is a loser, and the kid's probably not too off in his opinion. Every night, Peter watches the same TV show and eats his dinner alone in bed.

Meanwhile, Kyle is living it up in Hawaii. He has a lucrative deal with a barbecue sauce company, having his image plastered on every label and receiving a royalty for every bottle sold. He has never had problems with women, and now he's in a serious relationship and expecting a baby. Kyle believes that the universe is a strange force that provides when you least expect it. It's obvious that he doesn't expect much, considering how lucky he has been in life.

The plot involves the brothers' mother Helen (Glenn Close) admitting that she has been lying to her sons for their entire lives. Despite telling them that their father has been dead since a time before they knew him, she doesn't know whom Peter and Kyle's father actually is. The most likely candidate is former professional football player Terry Bradshaw (who plays himself), so the guys head to Miami to meet their long-lost father.

The search isn't that simple, as you may have guess from the plural form of the title. Miami is Peter and Kyle's first stop in a tour of the East Coast and the Midwest, as they follow a trail of Helen's past relationships, only to discover that each of the new paternal candidates couldn't be their father.

The possibilities include J.K. Simmons as a former Wall Street guy whose life has hit a bad spot, Jack McGee as another pair of twins from a working-class Irish family in Boston, and Christopher Walken as a veterinarian. There are gags associated with each of these characters, of course. Bradshaw admits to knowing Helen by going into graphic detail about their sexual relationship, which seems like an odd way to start a conversation about another person (Ving Rhames plays his buddy from his football days, who does the exact same thing). Simmons' Roland has a bad temper and claims to be a repo man—a claim with a payoff that's obvious and that doesn't possess an actual punch line. The trip to Boston leads to a contrived situation in which the brothers think Peter might have been involved in an incestuous one-night stand.

Contrivances are required for this sort of situational comedy, but there's no surprise to them here. Once the brothers are involved in something way over their heads, it's simply a matter of watching Helms and Wilson try their best to play dumb or naïvely unaware as the trouble escalates. Most of the jokes end with some kind of physical comedy—from a man being hit by a speeding car, to a brawl at a wake, to Walken being shot with a tranquilizer gun (There's also a joke about an unconscious cat's testicles for no reason whatsoever). A lengthy sequence involving a hitchhiker (played by Katt Williams) sets itself up one way (The guys are worried the stranger might be a killer, so they tie him up, making them look like the shady ones), only to end with a train collision.

Malen is trying too hard to be funny in the establishment of these scenarios, and Sher is reluctant to match the effort. That's because Father Figures ultimately tries to tug at the heartstrings. It's an especially cheap move in the context of the rest of the movie's desperate but lackadaisical grabs for laughs.

Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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