Review: Formulaic 'Parental Guidance' tolerable enough

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."

Photo by Photo: Phil Caruso, TM and © 2012 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation and Walden Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved. Not for sale or duplication.

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."

Old school grandfather Artie, who is accustomed to calling the shots, meets his match when he and his eager-to-please wife Diane agree to babysit their ...

Rating: PG for some rude humor

Length: 104 minutes

Released: December 25, 2012 Nationwide

Cast: Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Marisa Tomei, Tom Everett Scott, Bailee Madison

Director: Andy Fickman

Writer: Lisa Addario, Joe Syracuse

More info and showtimes »

The schmaltz is piled on thick, and if the comedy were any broader it would require an Imax screen, but still there's something touching about how hard Billy Crystal and Bette Midler hustle to peddle the threadbare material that makes "Parental Guidance" a perfectly tolerable, if uninspired, moviegoing experience.

As "the other grandparents" who are given a golden opportunity to bond with their seldom-seen grandchildren, Billy and Bette work double-time, well aware that it's not just the juvenile characters they have to entertain, but also the paying audiences who could count on both of them for a good laugh back in the day.

That they manage to pull their weight even when the achingly formulaic plotting threatens to drag them under is a testament to their "let's-put-on-a-show" spirit. The end result should appeal to audiences, including bonding grandparents and grandkids, looking for a little undemanding holiday cheer.

Crystal is Artie Decker, who has just lost his longtime gig as "De Voice of the Fresno Grizzlies" when the minor-league baseball team decided to upgrade the outfit with the sort of talent that knows its way around a Facebook page or a Twitter account.

Already despondent, he's not exactly jumping up and down over the news that he and his wife Diane (Midler) have been recruited to babysit their daughter Alice's (Marisa Tomei) three kids when she and her tech-geek husband Phil (Tom Everett Scott) get a last-minute opportunity to have some out-of-town alone time.

As expected, uptight Alice's no-sugar-allowed helicopter parenting clashes mightily with Artie and Diane's old-school approach to child-rearing, not to mention the fact that Phil has programmed his smart home to be intuitive within an inch of its inhabitants' lives.

Also as expected are the resulting gags built around technologically challenged Artie. Fortunately, old pro Crystal comes armed with an arsenal of rim-shot-ready rejoinders that hit the mark more than they miss.

While his character has been given more of an emotional arc than Midler's (unsurprising, since the genesis of "Parental Guidance" came from a newly minted grandparenting experience in producer Crystal's life), it's still nice to see Midler strutting her stuff in her first onscreen comedy role in years.

And Tomei is always a welcome presence, even when she's saddled with what's essentially a one-note character for most of the film.

It would have been nice if director Andy Fickman ("Race to Witch Mountain") and husband-and-wife screenwriters Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse ("Surf's Up") could have mined some fresher stuff from this frequently played ballgame, but at least when you've got Crystal calling the shots, you can still count on the occasional change-up.

Get Copyright Permissions © 2012, The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.
Want to use this article? Click here for options!

© 2012 Knoxville.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Comments » 0

Be the first to post a comment!

Want to participate in the conversation? Become a subscriber today. Subscribers can read and comment on any story, anytime. Non-subscribers will only be able to view comments on select stories.

Already activated? Login