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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 23, 2003

Brooks, Douglas transcend hokey script in remake of 'The In-Laws'

By Marshall Fine
The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News

THE IN-LAWS (Rated Pg-13) Two and One-Half Stars (Fair-to-Good)

In-laws meet for the first time on the weekend their kids are to marry — and become embroiled in a comic plot of international intrigue. More frantic than the 1979 original film but not necessarily as funny. Starring Albert Brooks, Michael Douglas, Candice Bergen. Directed by Andrew Fleming. Warner Bros., 98 minutes.

The good news, for those of us who think Albert Brooks is the most under appreciated funny man in the world, is that he's very funny in "The In-Laws," stepping into shoes filled by Alan Arkin in the 1979 original.

The idea of teaming the neurotic Brooks with the dashing Michael Douglas in a cool turn as the smoothest of operators is inspired and the two click as a comic odd-couple. Or they would, if the script for this remake didn't let the two stars down so often.

Andrew Bergman's original screenplay starred Arkin as a mild-mannered dentist whose daughter is about to wed a man whose father he meets for the first time during the week of the wedding. The father of the groom, played by Peter Falk, turns out to be a CIA agent who drags his future in-law into a plot involving espionage. The plot had a made-up feeling, but Falk and Arkin had a chemistry that was classic.

The details are different here, but the basics are essentially the same in this version written by Nat Mauldin and Ed Solomon and directed by Andrew Fleming. The writing stretches to achieve the blithe absurdity of the first film, but the actors have to work too hard at rescuing sometimes limp material.

Brooks is Dr. Jerry Peyser, a worrywart podiatrist whose daughter is about to marry the son of Steve Tobias (Douglas), a supposed Xerox salesman, whom Peyser is meeting for the first time just before the wedding. Before he knows it, Peyser (who carries his own collapsible drinking cup in the fanny-pack that's always with him) is enmeshed in a bizarre scheme involving a gay terrorist, a huge stack of cash and a missing Russian submarine.

For good measure, the film creates a subplot involving Candice Bergen as the groom's mother, divorced from Tobias but still carrying the psychological scars of their marriage. She even travels with her own personal spiritual guide, a joke that is tired after the first time, if not before.

The best moments of the film feel the most spontaneous and ad-libbed. At one point, Tobias drags the Peyser family to a squalid Asian restaurant far out of its hygiene comfort zone. As they walk in, a dog seated on a chair next to the door barks at them: "At least the dog is fresh," Brooks cracks.

It's been 20 years since Douglas did something this broad and dashing ("Romancing the Stone"), and he's still got the chops to be both credible and unflappable as a crack secret agent. Brooks also brings surprising comic elan to his scenes.

Too often, however, the filmmakers mistake commotion for humor. Silliness grounded in reality can be hilarious; silliness for its own sake feels random and arbitrary. In this case, it misses more often than it hits.

"The In-Laws" does have some laughs and most of them come from Brooks. The memory of the first film isn't sullied by this version, but neither is it eclipsed.

Rated PG-13 for profanity, violence, and sexuality.