By Robert Horton Herald Movie Criic
As though parachuting in from some 1980s movie that never got made, Billy Crystal and Bette Midler become cranky grandparents in “Parental Guidance,” a mild comedy for holiday time.
Nice to see both actors, as their careers on the big screen have been quiet of late. Too bad their return comes in such an oatmealy project.
Grandparents Artie and Diane are called in to do a few days’ of babysitting when their daughter (Marisa Tomei) and her hubby (Tom Everett Scott) take a trip. The three grandkids have a variety of quirks: over-achieving violin player, stutterer, impulse-control boy.
Artie’s in grumpy shape because he has just lost his job as a play-by-play announcer for the Fresno minor-league baseball team. This set-up allows for some nice bits by Billy Crystal, whose lifelong devotion to baseball comes through in the lingo he spouts.
Nothing against Crystal here, although he might have let a few gray hairs show through while playing a grandpa; his comic timing is dead-on as always. As for Midler, she gets to mutter a few tart put-downs, and is especially good when facing down her granddaughter’s severe Russian music teacher.
But overall the script is a snoozer, and director Andy Fickman (“The Game Plan”) sticks to kiddie humor and slapstick for the main jokes. When the littlest boy announces that he needs to go to the bathroom while grandpa is trying to audition for an X-Games announcing spot, you can bet it won’t be long before the pee-pee begins raining down on the skateboarding half-pipe.
The dreariest thing about “Parental Guidance” is the way it makes easy targets of 21st-century parenting, as Artie and Diane make the case that the “old ways” of raising kids are superior to this newfangled permissiveness and respect for children.
If you do the math, Artie and Diane would’ve been raised in the Dr. Spock era, when people were criticizing newfangled permissiveness in exactly the same way. Every generation must invoke the good old days when insisting how much wiser we all were back then, and this movie is no different.
That tired attitude would be easier to take if this movie were funnier, or if its targets had a little more originality. And I can’t help thinking that this is exactly the kind of movie that, if it had been released 30 years ago, would have been ripped to shreds by Billy Crystal and Bette Midler in their comedy prime.
“Parental Guidance” (2 stars)
A very mild comedy that returns Billy Crystal and Bette Midler to center stage, as grandparents who must babysit their grandkids for a few days. Both these old pros have a few moments, but the jibes about the permissiveness of these young folks today seem pretty ancient.
Rated: PG for subject matter.
Showing: Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood, Meridian, Oak Tree, Woodinville, Cascade Mall, Oak Harbor.