‘Parental Guidance’: Strike up the bland
‘Parental Guidance’: Strike up the bland

This film takes the simple premise of “grandparents just don’t understand” and runs with it all the way through the end zone and clear out of the stadium.

Billy Crystal and Bette Midler star as Artie and Diane Decker, a couple with a great deal of physical and emotional distance from the family of their only daughter Alice (Marisa Tomei).

When plot complications arise that require Alice and her husband, Phil (Tom Everett Scott), to leave town for a few days the lack of available babysitters leads them to call in Artie and Diane to take care of their three seldom-seen grandchildren.

“Parental Guidance” strip-mines Generation-Gap Mountain for all the laughs it can find. Each kid has a boatload of issues. Oldest child Harper (Bailee Madison) is a chronic overachiever, middle kid Turner (Joshua Rush) battles a stutter and Barker (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf), the youngest and the owner of an inexplicable mop of red hair, is pretty much just a dork.

All of the children’s foibles are attributed to Alice and Phil’s “use your words” parenting style, and all of which get resolved by Artie and Diane’s good-natured, tough-love approach with lots of wacky pratfalls and Crystal one-liners along the way.

This is a movie that paints in big, broad strokes. Everything winds up all right in the end, just as you would expect it to. However, most of the conflicts aren’t really ever fleshed out, and the movie dedicates just as much energy to Crystal getting hit in the groin with a bat as it does to satisfactorily resolving much of anything.

“Parental Guidance” was directed by Andy Fickman, best known for helming vehicles for The Rock like “The Game Plan” and “Race to Witch Mountain” along with blandly forgettable comedies like “She’s the Man” and “You Again.” You can tell with his pedigree that the producers are gleefully aiming for the lowest common denominator here.

The cynic in me almost believes this movie was created in a marketing lab for the sole purpose of being that middle-of-the-road Christmas Compromise I mentioned before.

I guess if you are a huge fan of Crystal and enjoy his shtick even when he is in full “just collect the paycheck” mode then you would be the lone demographic that would be over the moon about “Parental Guidance.”

For everyone else, it’s like holiday brunch with the in-laws. It’s not the thing you would necessarily like to be doing, but you’ll gladly abide by it if it means that everybody is going to get along.

“Parental Guidance” is rated PG for some rude humor.

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