The In-Laws

Pretty decent spy slash buddy comedy spoof.

Released in 2003, certified UK-12A. Reviewed on 16 Jul 2003 by Scott Morris
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A remake of the 1979 Peter Falk / Alan Arkin film (which I haven't seen, so no comments as to how it compares), The In-Laws treads similar water to the similarly lukewarmly received buddy-spy comedy I Spy, but damned if we didn't like this almost as much as we liked it. Perhaps being raised on a diet of Bond, Mission Impossible and The Man From UNKLE has left us more open to the charms of the spy spoof, although I certainly wasn't expecting a lot from it going through the door. After all, there wouldn't seem to be much of a comparison between I Spy's Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson pairing and the seemingly less likely-to-mesh duo of Michael Douglas and Albert Brooks. A slight prejudice, but I've never been a particular fan of Douglas, his annoying performances seeming to outnumber his occasionally excellent ones but he's brought his A-game to the party this time.

The plot in this sort of caper is generally as dispensable as it is paper-thin and unbelievable, but I suppose some kind of recap is in order. Steve Tobias (Michael Douglas) is a deep undercover CIA agent, current posing as a weapons dealer with his sidekick Angela Harris (Robin Tunney). They're currently hawking a surplus Ruskie army stealth nuclear submarine, despite the best efforts of Interpol and the CIA. It's as good an excuse as any to open on a car chase, and in common with the rest of them in the movie they're more than competently handled by director Andrew Fleming. The pacing and energy flows on throughout all of the movie, which ought to ensure that even the more curmudgeonly members of the audience won't be bored even if the jokes aren't rocking their world.

After escaping with the usual display of pyrotechnics, Steve goes on to the next part of his mission, meeting the parents of his son Mark's (Ryan Reynolds) intended wife Melissa (Lindsay Sloane). The titular in-laws consist of suitably stereotypically timid foot doctor Jerry Peyser (Albert Brooks) and his wife Katherine (Maria Ricossa). Jerry is a clear contrast against Steve's devil may care daredevil. While Steve is comfortable 'borrowing' Barbra Streisand's personal Gulfstream for a jaunt to France to see notorious traffickers, Jerry refuses to fly and gets vertigo on tall buildings. Danger is not a word in Jerry's vocabulary, but it's Steve's middle name. What whacky scrapes will this comically mismatched pair get into?

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Quite a few actually, and although none of them are going to rewrite the comedy rulebook they're far more promising than the initial concept might indicate. Douglas puts in a performance reminiscent of his similarly laughing-at-danger role in Romancing The Stone, and it works far better than a great many roles he's tackled. Despite hardly being the first name to jump to mind when thinking of spies, his charisma keeps everything bouncing along so that no matter how daft things get it's never gratingly daft.

And things certainly get daft, quickly and consistently. Steve pulls double duty, meeting a arms dealer contact at the same time as his first meeting with Jerry which quickly goes tits-up once the CIA get involved. With Jerry stumbling over Steve's arm dealing shenanigans, and now known to the CIA Steve decides to take Jerry along with him on his mission. An unusual course of action, but it allows Brooks to throw off a variety of panicked straight-man lines through the course of their globetrotting, gadget filled trip. Brooks is one of those actors who seems to have been around forever but rarely seen outside of his native U.S, and some will find his slightly over hyperactive delivery of many of his lines irritating but on the whole there's a lot more hits than there are misses.

To be fair to the man, there's normally a good reason to panic. Whether it's crashing in a plane or being hit upon by a utterly insane homosexual underworld kingpin (played by ex-Poirot star David Suchet in a hilarious and show-stealing example of judicious overacting) while posing as the shadowy 'Fat Cobra', there's so many scrapes along the way that it's difficult to see how they managed to squeeze in the sub-plots about Steve and Jerry?s different parenting techniques and have them get back in time for their offspring's wedding.

There are a great many scenes dealing with these subplots that could have easily come across as overblown and cheesy, but as everything is continually being set against some ludicrous backdrop such as parachuting from the top of a sky-scraper to escape the FBI it never becomes as smarmy as it could be. While everyone ends up as better people from their experiences and learning from each other and yada yada yada, the ending is so suitably daft as to take the edge of the saccharine sweet standard issue Happy Hollywood Ending™.

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It's an utterly daft, ridiculous film so it's already going to lose points in some peoples estimation. The only flaws I can pick are that a few of Brooks' lines can fall a little flat, but for the most part it's a solid performance. While the focus is firmly on Steve and Jerry, the film devotes a fair amount of screen time to both the hero's wives and progeny, and honestly doesn't do a great amount with them. At least Steve's family has a suitable degree of disfunctionality to provide some interest, but Jerry's staid home life gives us some fairly staid characters that Ricossa and Sloane have a thankless task in portraying. Minor niggles, and in themselves only minor detractions. The only thing stopping this from getting the five star treatment is that on the whole the jokes aren't quite funny enough to warrant it.

Much as I harp on about a lack of originality in things like Bringing Down The House it only really becomes a talking point once it's failed in it's original remit - if it just ain't funny. I doubt you'd find a single page of this script that doesn't have at least one well-worn clich?, (although as it's part spoof, that's sorta the point) but this doesn't bring the film down much in my estimation because it is funny. Of late I don't expect comedies to move me to tears or to cause a paradigm shift in my thought patterns, as long as I'm kept chuckling for the duration I'll be happy to slap my recommendation on it. The In-Laws does more than enough to earn this.

I'll slap on the usual get-out clause, that one man's comedy is another man's unbearable pap, perhaps the most subjective genre of filmmaking. Certainly this inhabits the same unashamedly mainstream comedy waters of Bruce Almighty, Old School and Super Troopers but if that's no barrier to a hateful old cynic like me enjoying it then it should be deemed fit for most human consumption.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 4/5 TippyMarks.

Andrew Fleming
Cast list:
Michael Douglas (Steve Tobias)
Robin Tunney (Angela Harris)
Albert Brooks (Jerry Peyser)
Lindsay Sloane (Melissa Peyser)
Maria Ricossa (Katherine Peyser)
Ryan Reynolds (Mark Tobias)