Here is a basic tenet of filmmaking, even in Hollywood: Comedies are supposed to be funny. And not just in isolated scenes of mild hilarity. Unfortunately, Andy Fickman's fussy family saga fails the funny test, despite a few random highlights.
Instead, we have to endure Billy Crystal and Bette Midler playing incompetent but carefree grandparents. When they fly in from California and are left with the care of three over-coddled kids for a week in Georgia, the kids wreak havoc. All while the Crystal-Midler duo slapsticks around.
Not surprisingly, despite utter chaos, things will turn out well at the end -- with lots of loving spread around. Assembled like a paint-by-numbers project, with all the expected emotional beats pounded on like a drum, Parental Guidance has no surprises. It features Marisa Tomei as the insanely uptight daughter who fears for the sanity of her children when Crystal and Midler are in charge. Tom Everett Scott plays her bland husband. They are rigid thinkers compared to the eccentric and unreliable grandparents.
Because each of the kids has special needs -- one is under pressure over a looming violin audition; one needs speech therapy; one is apt to run away -- the couple is desperate for help when they find themselves with an out-of-town trip coming up. This is why the couple calls the grandparents of last resort for this particular week.
It becomes a test between the grandparents' laissez-faire attitudes and the strict rule-making process that the New Age parents apply. But there are better ways to make fun of parenting. I would even watch Meet the Fockers or one of its sequels again, at least over seeing Parental Guidance. Cheaper by the Dozen also comes to mind, as does the awful (yet still funnier) Addams Family Reunion. There are lots of other parenting comedies with more humour than we find in Parental Guidance.
Meanwhile, it is painful to watch what Crystal and Midler have become in their 60s. Both were once cutting-edge comedians, Crystal for his quick wit and Midler for her brazen ball-busting as The Divine Miss M. Now they are safe, conservative, predictable, schmaltzy. Ditto for Tomei, who once earned an Oscar nom for slinging Brooklynese in My Cousin Vinny.
The uneven pacing of the movie is another problem. Fickman (whose past work includes She's the Man, The Game Plan and Race to Witch Mountain) does nothing to make this movie anything other than routine. Even the tangents -- such as having one kid's pee stream ruin a dangerous run by famous skateboarder Tony Hawk -- is awkward and silly.