Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Film Review: Father's Day

"Father's Day"  *** (out of ****)

Billy Crystal and Robin Williams are together again for the first time in "Father's Day" (1997).

When you hear a comedy is going to star Billy Crystal and Robin Williams you reasonably expect it to be a very funny comedy showcasing two great comedy talents. Williams with his maniac style and brilliant gift for improvisation and Billy Crystal for his wit and ability to dish out one-liners.

When it was first released Billy Crystal and Robin Williams had a field day with the press. Expectations were very high. Crystal and Williams were hitting all the talk shows. I remember them even making a guest appearance on the television show "Friends". Because the two men were friends in real life and because of their talent and because it was the first film they had appeared together in, audiences were expecting a laugh riot.

"Father's Day" came at a time Crystal needed a hit badly. Prior to this movie he had starred in "Mr. Saturday Night" (1992) and "Forget Paris" (1995), two movies which he directed and I personally like but they were not a success at the box-office. After this movie he appeared in "My Giant" (1998), another box-office flop.

Williams on the other hand, while not starring in great movies, was having more success. He appeared in Mike Nichol's "The Birdcage" (1995), "Jumanji" (1995) and "Nine Months" (1995). All were hits at the box-office upon their release.

And then there was "Father's Day". The critics (sheep) butchered the movie and audiences stood away. The movie grossed a little more than $28 million domestically against an $85 million dollar budget. That's bad.

The movie, based on the French comedy "Les Comperes" (1983) directed by Francis Veber and starring Gerard Depardieu, was not what audiences were expecting. People simply felt the movie was not funny. In his original review Chicago Sun-Times movie critic Roger Ebert gave the movie one star and wrote "Father's Day" is a brainless feature-length sitcom with too much sit and no com." However, I disagree. Is "Father's Day" a really funny movie? No. Have Billy Crystal and Robin Williams appeared in funnier movies? Yes but that's not a high bar in my opinion.

It is very difficult for comedians to often find movies which are well-suited for them. Comedians like Billy Crystal and Robin Williams are better than the movies they appear in. No single movie can capture what makes them funny. The reason any particular movie starring either one of them is going to work is because of star power. The audience simply wants to watch them. There will always been a moment or two when they will make us laugh watching the movie. That's how I feel about "Father's Day".

I laughed a few times watching the movie. No big laughs but a few small laughs. Still I sat through the entire movie and overall enjoyed the experience. I liked the movie best when Williams and Crystal were on-screen and able to do their "shtick". When the movie gets out of their way, it works. When the movie started to follow its plot, it slows down and becomes less interesting. At the end of the day though you watch because of Williams and Crystal. It's ashame they didn't star in more movies together. Imagine them as a comedy team in the 1930s!

Still maybe a comedy by Francis Veber wasn't the right material for them. In fact, why Hollywood keeps adapting his French comedies into English is beyond me. The movies have a terrible track record. There was "La Chevre" (1981) remade as "Pure Luck" (1991) with Martin Short. There was "Le Jouet" (1976) remade as "The Toy" (1981). Veber even directed his own remake, "Three Fugitives" (1989) which was based off of "Les Fugitifs" (1986). None of them received much fanfare from the public.

Billy Crystal plays Jack Lawrence, an attorney now married to his third wife, Carrie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). Many years ago he was in love with Collette (Nastassja Kinski). After sixteen years she calls him to tell him he is the father of her son, Scott (Charlie Hofheimer) and now more than ever Collette and Scott need Jack. Scott has run away from home and Collette would like Jack to find him.

Jack at first isn't sure he believes Collette story. Why wait all these years? Why not take a blood test to find out? Collette says she married soon after and would allow her husband, Bob (Bruce Greenwood) to believe he was the father of the boy. As for blood work. There is no time. Someone has to find Scott.

Believing Jack will not help her Collette turns to Dale (Williams) whom she also dated at the same time and gives the same story to about him being the father of Scott. Dale is a bit more open to the idea and very, very eager to find Scott.

Whereas Jack feels he is leading a full life, Dale is a failed artist. When we first meet Dale he is attempting suicide, which given the tragic events of Williams' life, the audience now looks at these type of scenes differently. So finding a son he never knew existed gives Dale a sense of purpose.

The thing that always bothered me about "Father's Day" was why didn't Bob go and look for his son? I could understand if Bob and Collette were divorced or if there was a sub-plot that Scott ran away from home because of Bob but there is none of that. Why does Collete need to track down two men, create a ridiculous story when the father of the child is in the same home with you? Why not tell him, go out and find our son now or you'll never see me again! It makes Bob seem like a pathetic man and a pathetic father and a useless character.

If you aren't able to get over that aspect of the plot though you cannot enjoy the movie. So the audience must make an attempt to look past this point.

"Father's Day" has moments when it wants to be a broad farce and have a lot of wild, shocking comedic moments. One sequence involves Jack and Dale finding Scott, who is drunk, bringing back to a hotel room and proceeding to give him a shower. Jack's wife calls at this moment and room service enters the room. Meanwhile Dale is in the shower yelling for Jack to help him shower the boy which is suppose to be very suggestive to the wife and bell-hop.

Another strange detail of the movie is its obsession with headbutting. It is Jack's weapon of choice and soon he teaches Dale the proper way to do it and they are headbutting everyone that gets in their way.

There isn't much for the cast to do. Everything rest on Crystal and Williams. Too bad Julia Louis-Dreyfus wasn't given more. Still, the movie is at best a light diversion. It is fun to see Crystal and Williams together. They have good chemistry. The best moments of the movie are when they are on-screen.

The movie was directed by Ivan Reitman who was quite a force at the box-office directing titles like "Ghostbusters" (1984), "Stripes" (1981), "Twins" (1988), "Kindergarten Cop" (1990) and "Ghostbusters II" (1989). I never said all the movies were good. I just said they were popular! With Reitman behind the movie that raised expectations as well. He seemed to have a knack for finding projects which had a mainstream appeal. Nice formula, lowest common denominator, Hollywood products.