Michael Douglas’ James Bondian adventures as a fearless, globe-trotting CIA agent are fanciful, and the sight of Albert Brooks as an uptight, stay-at-home podiatrist who stashes emergency Lorna Doones in a fanny pack is tonic. Don’t be fooled, though: The In-Laws is actually closer in soggy tone to Douglas’ recent group-hug project ”It Runs in the Family” than it is to the now-near-classic 1979 comedy starring Peter Falk and Alan Arkin, on which this lesser remake is based.
As in the original script by Andrew Bergman, the mild guy’s daughter (Lindsay Sloane) is marrying the spy guy’s son (Ryan Reynolds). But while Jerry Peyser (Brooks) fusses obsessively with party planning, Steve Tobias (Douglas) is so busy dashing around the world that he barely has time at all for his son’s wedding, or for his son. And what begins as a tense prenuptial meal between prospective in-laws quickly unravels into a sprawling caper that straps the risk-averse Jerry into the passenger seat of Steve’s high-risk world. At one point, the father who hates to leave home wakes from a drugged sleep to find himself an unwilling rider on a private jet that may or may not have been stolen from Barbra Streisand. In another, much coarser subplot, Jerry becomes the lust object of an arms dealer (David Suchet), a gay French caricature I thought had disappeared with good riddance around the time of ”Laugh-In.”
Still, while much of ”The In-Laws” feels stuck in time, what really does it in is the script’s boring, modern sensitivity to fatherhood, and bonding with one’s kids, and all that enlightened parenthood crap. Again playing an ambitious man atoning for having been a neglectful dad, Douglas backs away from the very quality of smarmy ruthlessness that is his comedic as well as his dramatic strength. And even Brooks, a master at portraying paragons of insecurity and self-involvement, is forced to squander valuable time bonding tediously, if healthily, with his drippy daughter (while his wife, played by Maria Ricossa, trails along like a maternal afterthought).
In the midst of all this wilting emotional humidity, Candice Bergen puts in a refreshing appearance as Steve’s bitter, over-therapied ex-wife. In recent years, Bergen has made a nice little business out of playing sinewy, imperious mothers, most recently in ”Sweet Home Alabama.” Until the end, when she too is forced to Get Happy, she’s the in-law who’s the most fun at this dull wedding.