2017, R, 113 min. Directed by Lawrence Sher. Starring Terry Bradshaw, Glenn Close, Ed Helms, Ving Rhames, J.K. Simmons, Christopher Walken, Katt Williams, Owen Wilson.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Dec. 29, 2017
Somehow, somewhere, a time warp has opened, and out of it dropped the script for Father Figures. Clearly, this was written sometime around 1998, when anodyne family comedies were all the rage, and it was supposed to star Owen Wilson and a Paul Rudd-esque straight man as two chalk-and-cheese brothers on a road trip, looking for their biological father. So this lost, unmade script falls through that rip in space and time, and drops on an executive’s desk who pays for a raunchy R-rated polish. Wilson is still available for goofy dude comedy parts, but Rudd was (luckily for him) busy, so someone called Ed Helms. And boom! We get Father Figures, one of the most inexplicably awkward comedies of the last few years.
Helms plays Peter Reynolds, a divorcé with a bad relationship with his entire family, miserable in his job as a proctologist, which he only took because his own father died of cancer. However, his addiction to Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (a bland show for a bland man) leads to the unlikely discovery that the man he thought was his father is just a bad actor, and that his mother (Close, sleepwalking through her lines) lied to him and his stoner surfer millionaire brother Kyle (Wilson) all along. So rather than email any potential candidates for being their real parent, they criss-cross the States in a rental car.
It’s not that Father Figures is irredeemably bad. It’s that it’s so predictable and yet so tonally disjointed. The first act, featuring NFL Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw as the most amiable version of himself imaginable, is oddly soporific, and it’s hard to be emotionally invested when it’s clear there are alternate potential poppas waiting farther down the road. Then, suddenly, the PG-13 giggles (few and far between as they are) lurch into post-Forgetting Sarah Marshall dick joke territory. If Owen Wilson getting into a literal pissing match with a 6-year-old is your idea of humor, then here’s your Christmas gift.
Helms is the saving grace. In the opening comedy of manners, his seething rage at his annoying family seems well-justified. He also makes the transition to the more adult material deftly, extracting both laughs and gasps with one of the most brilliantly appalling lines of the year after a potentially catastrophic one-night-stand. But, bar a transcendent cameo from Katt Williams as the world’s most oddly polite hitchhiker, no one else ever catches up, meaning wasted one-note turns from actors who should know better.