Fathers' Day (1997) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sex-related humor, language, some violence, and drug references
Running Time: 98 min.
Cast: Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, Charlie Hofheimer, Bruce Greenwood, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Natassja Kinski, Dennis Burkley, Haylie Johnson, Charles Rocket, Patti D'Arbanville, Jared Harris, Mark McGrath and Sugar Ray, Mel Gibson (cameo), Jason Reitman (cameo), Mary McCormack (cameo)
Director: Ivan Reitman
Screenplay: Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel (based on the French film, Les Comperes, by Francois Veber)
Review published June 2, 2006
Fathers' Day is yet another American remake of a French comedy that falls flat on its face from an absence of quality humor. Perhaps most of the humor is lost in translation or perhaps the French just seem to handle broadly physical farces that much better; whatever the reason, there's just little for two of the world's most gifted comedians to do but try to ad-lib enough moments of hilarity to squeeze out whatever chuckle they can for 98 minutes. They do manage to score a couple of funny moments here and there, but the rest is such a wasteland of squandered ideas, it's hard to determine if you are laughing because it's genuinely funny or because you've been holding back so much laughter along the way that they escape out of you on accident like trapped gas.
The premise of the film is that a former lover (Kinski, Cat People) of two California men, cocky lawyer Jack Lawrence (Crystal, The Princess Bride) and suicidal hypochondriac Dale Putley (Williams, Nine Months) are each told individually that they have a now 17-year-old son they never knew about. It's all part of aa scam cooked up by the mother to get the men to look for her missing son, although the would-be fathers have no clue until they run into each other and discover that they may have been had. However, by this time, both are so caught up in the pleasure of being a potential father that they continue on the mad quest to find the boy, just on the off chance that one of them, indeed, really is the lucky sperm donor. When they find the boy (Hofheimer, Boys), they discover he is in a world of trouble, stealing five grand from a ruthless drug dealer (Harris, Igby Goes Down) who's hot to get his loot back.
Having Crystal and Williams sit for 90 minutes and completely improvise would have probably been far more interesting, and generated many more laughs, than sticking them in the middle of a tired face that is DOA from inception. It used to actually mean something to see the Oscar-nominated names of Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel as the screenwriters of a comedy, writers of such modern-day classic comedies as A League of Their Own, Parenthood, City Slickers, Night Shift, and Splash, but most of those films were in their past, and they have turned in mostly mediocre material since 1992. It also used to mean something to see the name Ivan Reitman as director, helmer of such classic comedies as Ghostbusters, Stripes, and Meatballs, although without Bill Murray, Reitman can't seem to get in sync with the pacing of the comedy to get any big laughs out of the material.
If there are any laughs at all in Fathers' Day, they appear to be generated just from the improvised riffing between the two lead performers and in nothing else, which begs the question as to what anyone saw in the project that attracted them. Anytime Billy and Robin aren't on screen, which is far too often in a film starring them, the comedic value of the film tanks completely, with terribly unfunny subplots involving Bruce Greenwood's (Double Jeopardy, Rules of Engagement) quest to find his legitimate son, Louis-Dreyfus ("Seinfeld") looking for the husband that may be involved in a sordid male-on-male affair, and the thuggish drug dealers that would rather risk jail time by making threats in bustling casinos to get back what amounts to a rather inconsequential amount of money.
Despite so much talent behind the camera, as well as in front, there's hardly anything to show for their efforts here, certainly not enough to attract anyone but the biggest of fans of the two lead comedians. I guess fans of Crystal and Williams should be pretty used to seeing them in comedies that don't come close to being as funny as the two are when on stage performing, so they know what to expect -- sheer crap. Needless to say, this is one Fathers Day no one will be celebrating.
©2006 Vince Leo