2003, PG-13, 95 min. Directed by Andrew Fleming. Starring Michael Douglas, Albert Brooks, Robin Tunney, Ryan Reynolds, Lindsay Sloane, David Suchet, Maria Ricossa.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., May 23, 2003
Mention Arthur Hiller’s 1979 film The In-Laws to people of a certain age, and you’ll likely get to see otherwise sane folk run around the room yelling, "Serpentine! Serpentine!" – a key line from one of the best and most absurdist comedies of the Seventies. It never fails to surprise me just how many film fans have screenwriter Andrew Bergman’s witty, silly lines from the original In-Laws imprinted on their memories – Bergman also co-authored one of the decade’s other truly memorable comedies, Mel Brook’s Blazing Saddles ("That’s Hed-ley LaMarr!"), before graduating to directing his own comedies, among them The Freshman). This remake has a new script by Nat Mauldin and Ed Solomon, the writers behind Dr. Dolittle and Men in Black respectively, and although they hew closely to Bergman’s original first act, the film quickly takes off in entirely new directions. This new, more action-oriented version of the story kicks off in a much higher gear than its predecessor. Both Fleming (Dick) and the writers are smart enough to know when to leave a classic alone and when to replicate certain situations. While The In-Laws lacks much of the chintzy Seventies charm of Hiller’s film, it stands on its own as one of the upcoming summer season’s more "adult" comedies (in other words, it’s not necessarily geared toward the "mall rat" set). Steve Tobias (Douglas) and Jerry Peyser (Brooks) are soon-to-be fathers-in-law who collide, missile-like, over the days leading up to their offsprings’ nuptials. (In the original, the characters were played by Peter Falk and Alan Arkin.) Steve’s a deep-cover CIA agent (or possibly a delusional madman) on the trail of French arms dealer Jean-Pierre Thibodoux (Suchet), and Jerry’s a neurotic dentist straight out of Woody Allen’s Big Book o’ Stuttery Tics. As the wedding approaches, Steve brings his unwitting, impending in-law into his confidence, and the pair embark on an insane covert mission full of the sort of high-concept shenanigans you’d expect. The appeal of Fleming’s film, however, isn’t in the situations, but in seeing both Douglas and Brooks struggle to make the roles their own while staying more or less true to the Falk and Arkin spirit. To this end, Douglas’ perpetually manic grin (at times it’s almost a leer) and the mischievous way he runs in and out of scenes make it abundantly clear he’s having a blast as this bargain-basement Bond, while Brooks employs the same neurotic bag of tricks he’s been using since his old Saturday Night Live days. (That said, Brooks remains one of the most consistently entertaining clowns out there.) Still, their pairing pales in comparison with the sheer vibrant goofiness of the original. Fleming roots his film in action-movie conventions; there are more explosions and high-wire stunts in one act of the remake than in the whole of Hiller’s film. As mincing madman Thibodoux, Suchet is the most memorable thing on screen, part Nathan Lane and part Some Like It Hot-era Tony Curtis. It’s difficult not to compare the two In-Laws – the Falk/Arkin teaming was and remains sublimely inspired – but it’s also inappropriate. Douglas, twitchy and explosive, and Brooks, panicky and denuded, create, in their own way, a similarly inspired pairing. It seems downright unfair to harp on the remake’s differences from the original when both films are having such a ball.