Ottawa Citizen

Ev­ery fam­ily’s worst night­mare

- CHRIS KNIGHT

Parental Guid­ance is one of the best-named movies of the year. Whether you are a par­ent or have par­ents (or both), it of­fers up a friendly re­minder of the im­por­tant role the older gen­er­a­tion plays.

If you have par­ents, call them up (it’s that time of year, af­ter all) and ask them what Billy Crys­tal was do­ing back in the day. I’ll re­mind you: Throw Momma from the Train, When Harry Met Sally, City Slick­ers and some fine standup. Bette Mi­dler was in Beaches, and Os­car-nom­i­nated in For the Boys. Now they co-star in this movie.

If you are a par­ent, ask your­self: Do you want your chil­dren’s comic devel­op­ment to be stunted by the likes of pee jokes, barf jokes and base­ball-bat-to-the-groin jokes that punc­tu­ate this movie? Or by a film whose best run­ning gag is that Crys­tal’s char­ac­ter, Ar­tie Decker, gets nick­named Far­tie by his ob­nox­ious grand­son? It took two writ­ers to come up with that?

The premise of the film is equally sim­ple. Har­ried par­ents Alice and Phil (Marisa Tomei and Tom Everett Scott) are of­fered a cor­po­rate-re­treat get­away. They call her par­ents, Ar­tie and Diane (Crys­tal and Mi­dler), to look af­ter the kids while they’re away.

Diane jumps at the op­por­tu­nity, and re­minds her hus­band that grand­par­ent­ing is a sec­ond chance. (True, but play­ing grand­par­ents? Not so much.) Ar­tie balks, but gamely fol­lows Diane’s lead. A sec­ondary plot point is that he has just been fired as the on-air an­nouncer for a mi­nor-league base­ball team — call it Trou­ble with the Verb — and wants to get back in the game. He still cher­ishes a 35-year-old dream to work for the Giants.

The three chil­dren, ap­par­ently named af­ter Santa’s lesser rein­deer — Barker, Turner and Harper — have a Mega-Freud of neu­roses among them, which is odd for kids so Jung. The el­dest, 12-yearown Harper, is a vi­o­lin prodigy, torn be­tween her de­sire to prac­tise and her re­cent dis­cov­ery of boys. Turner stut­ters and gets bul­lied for it. Barker’s best friend is an imag­i­nary kan­ga­roo. Don’t even get me started on the par­ents, whose house is a fu­tur­is­tic abode with ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence. They refuse to refuse their chil­dren, telling them “use your words” and “con­sider the con­se­quences” in­stead of such sim­plic­i­ties as “No.” Ar­tie, old enough to re­mem­ber cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment and the ’52 World Se­ries with equal clar­ity, does a slow burn at this nou­veau-par­ent­ing style.

Left in charge of the chil­dren, grandma and grandpa mess up in mess­ily pre­dictable ways, many in­volv­ing bath­room breaks. (Note I didn’t say bath­room hu­mour, which would im­ply some­thing funny.)

Cake is eaten; sugar-highs are had; Crys­tal gets shot in the pants with a water gun; Mi­dler gets to sing a duet; and both of them run afoul of speech ther­a­pists, lit­tle league coaches and a mu­sic teacher who, be­ing younger than 80, don’t share their views on ed­u­ca­tion and nur­tur­ing. Also, Crys­tal can’t fig­ure out how to un­buckle a child’s car seat.

Un­der the guid­ance of di­rec­tor Andy Fick­man (Race to Witch Moun­tain), lessons are learned. Per­haps the most im­por­tant is that the adult stars, who do the best they can with the ma­te­rial, should stick to an­i­mated voice work (Mi­dler was in Cats & Dogs, Crys­tal in the up­com­ing Mon­sters Univer­sity) un­til they can find less de­mean­ing projects.

And it’s not of­ten that I sin­gle out a stu­dio, but it’s worth not­ing that Parental Guid­ance was co-pro­duced by Walden Me­dia. Founded in 2001 with a char­ter that in­cludes mak­ing movies out of chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture, Walden’s films in­clude Holes, Bridge to Ter­abithia, three Chron­i­cles of Nar­nia films and the ex­cel­lent (though poorly re­ceived) City of Em­ber. Parental Guid­ance is hardly fit com­pany. Think of the chil­dren! Or at least their par­ents.

 ?? TWEN­TI­ETH CEN­TURY FOX ?? Ar­tie (Billy Crys­tal) holds on to grand­son Barker (Kyle Har­ri­son Bre­itkopf), who doesn’t like the idea of his mom Alice (Marisa Tomei) and dad Phil (Tom Everett Scott) go­ing away on va­ca­tion in Parental Guid­ance.
TWEN­TI­ETH CEN­TURY FOX Ar­tie (Billy Crys­tal) holds on to grand­son Barker (Kyle Har­ri­son Bre­itkopf), who doesn’t like the idea of his mom Alice (Marisa Tomei) and dad Phil (Tom Everett Scott) go­ing away on va­ca­tion in Parental Guid­ance.

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