1997, PG-13, 101 min. Directed by Ivan Reitman. Starring Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Nastassja Kinski, Charlie Hofheimer.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., May 9, 1997
Fathers' Day is a mildly diverting summer family comedy. In general, that's not a bad rap, but when you've got an expectant blockbuster that stars Robin Williams and Billy Crystal and has been directed by Ivan Reitman -- all of them true kings of comedy -- them words “mildly diverting” are clearly less than the desired result. So what went wrong? American adaptations of French comedies are, in general, questionable propositions. Fathers' Day is a remake of Les Comperes, minus some of the 1984 French film's plot convolutions and scenery. That leaves the Fathers' Day set-up extremely weak and unbelievable as the ever-beautiful mom played by Nastassja Kinski convinces two men with whom she slept 17 years ago that each is the father of her 16-year-old son. It's a far-fetched ploy that banks on the men's misplaced sense of fatherhood to get them to go off in search of her runaway son. Never addressed is why this errand is something she can't accomplish herself (especially since the teen's not at all difficult to find), or why her husband makes a belated and comedically dead-ended (he thrashes about in an overturned latrine for a good part of the film) attempt at retrieval. In a roundabout way, I think some of the problem derives from Space Jam, a movie that probably would not have been a fraction of the success it was without the supervising sensibilities of producer Ivan Reitman. Space Jam is the kind of film that made it safe to team up megastars in such unlikely combinations as Michael Jordan and the inanimate Looney Tunes stable. I have visions of producers (Fathers' Day has five of them, not least among them Joel Silver) clucking to themselves about how Billy Crystal and Robin Williams were the stars of their movie and what more could anyone want? Well, something hilarious for them to do would be nice. The pair (who are in virtually every scene of the film) create few uproarious comedic sparks. If Reitman succumbed to the “What, me worry?” school of filmmaking, Williams seems to forging the “I'll be in anything as long as you shoot it close to my home in San Francisco” school (I offer Mrs. Doubtfire, Jack, and now, Fathers' Day as evidence). As for Crystal, he'll probably have to make a few more films before he acquiesces to his fate as perpetual host/never the star. In the end, Fathers' Day offers little in the way of comic relief.