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Sunday, December 24, 2017

Father Figures

Father Figures has been sitting on the studio shelf for over a year, and at one point, went under the much more controversial title of Bastards.  With a title like that, you would probably expect this to be an edgy and raunchy comedy, but you might be surprised to learn that this is actually trying to be a heartfelt film about two brothers bonding while on a road trip.  You might also be surprised to learn that despite a cast featuring Ed Helms, Owen Wilson, Glenn Close, Christopher Walken, J.K. Simmons, Kat Williams, Harry Shearer and Ving Rhames, there are very few laughs to be had.

This is an extremely soft movie that lacks the edge you might expect.  The crude humor is kept at a minimum here, with the only real standout being a scene where Owen Wilson urinates on a child in a public restroom.  If that's something you didn't want to have spoiled for you, I apologize.  Like a lot of "adult" comedies, this movie wants to have laughs, and tug at our heartstrings.  However, director Lawrence Sher (a long-time cinematographer making his directorial debut) never quite finds the flow or momentum that a comedy like this needs.  The tone is strangely muted and meek, instead of wild and raucous.  Even the moments that are supposed to be sentimental feel strangely indifferent.  You know a comedy is in trouble when it's not really getting any laughs.  You know it's a lost cause when it brings in Christopher Walken in the third act, and he fails to liven things up.

The plot concerns Ed Helms and Wilson as twin brothers, Peter and Kyle Reynolds, respectively.  In accordance with the laws of lazy screenwriting, they are as different as can be.  Peter is an uptight and divorced proctologist with a kid who doesn't respect him.  Kyle is the laid back and free living sort who made a fortune after a barbecue sauce company asked to use his image on their label, and has been living the good life off of residuals.  The two reunite for the wedding of their mother, Helen (Glenn Close), who has told them all their lives that their father died of colon cancer.  On this particular day, she finally decides to tell the truth - She had a lot of free sex back in her youth ("it was the 70s", she explains), and she really has no idea who their father could be, although she suspects it might be football legend Terry Bradshaw (playing himself).  The two brothers fly out to Miami to meet Terry in person and find out the truth.  When that doesn't pan out, they follow the clues surrounding their mother's sexual exploits, and begin a cross country search for their dad's identity.

What follows are the usual oddball characters and wacky situations we expect from your average formula road trip movie, only with a suspicious lack of energy, which is especially strange given the talent this project somehow managed to rope in.  J.K. Simmons shows up as a possible dad candidate who is a shady con artist.  Kat Williams is a hitchhiker that the guys pick up who may or may not be a serial killer, but also seems oddly wise and patient in his ways.  The film has a fragmented structure, as each stop on the brothers' journey to find their dad is like its own individual short film, each with its own tone.  The movie tries to be ribald, silly, sweet and heartwarming at different times, and the various tones don't exactly gel.  But then, what do you expect from a movie that tries to have a gag about giant cat testicles and a heartfelt discussion about death in the same scene?

Father Figures lacks a consistent tone and a central focus to make it work.  There are a few moments that earn laughs, most of them surrounding Kat Williams as the hitchhiker.  But on the whole, this feels like a lot of talent being thrown at a script that was never thought out, or had a clear vision to begin with about what it wanted to be.  This is one of those times where it feels like a studio knew the project was in trouble, so they kept on throwing more talent at it, hoping they would lift it up.  Everybody is clearly doing what they can, but they can't keep the material from feeling flat and lifeless. 

3 comments

3 Comments:

  • Have you seen The Room and do you plan to see The Disaster Artist?

    By Blogger Patrick Shields, at 5:08 PM  

  • I would love to see The Disaster Artist, but it's only playing in other cities right now. I am hoping it comes eventually, along with The Shape of Water, and other movies in limited release I want to see.

    By Blogger Ryan, at 6:24 PM  

  • How come you didn't see Goodfellas back in 1990? I know you were 13, but you saw a lot of R rated movies back then.

    By Blogger Patrick Shields, at 6:35 PM  

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