Friday, December 28, 2012

Parental Guidance

It's sad to see an actress as gifted as Marisa Tomei slumming it in the thankless, paycheck-cashing part of Billy Crystal's resentful daughter Alice, who goes to extremes to raise her children antithetically to his old-school ways, in the crassly manipulative would-be family holiday comedy "Parental Guidance." Crystal plays Artie Decker, who as the movie opens loses his decades-long job as announcer for the minor-league Fresno Grizzlies baseball team. Bette Midler plays his wife, Diane, who stays in shape by taking pole-dancing lessons. They're the "other grandparents," called in reluctantly by Tomei and hubby Tom Everett Scott when his prototype design for a computerized house is nominated for a consumer products award.

Thus is the groundwork laid for 100 minutes of juvenile scatological humor and phony sentiment involving their three kids: budding violinist Harper, whose Juilliard education and concert career Mom has all planned out, but who - you guessed it - hates playing violin; bullied stutterer Turner (a really bad performance by child actor Joshua Rush consisting of literally double-pronouncing the first letters of words with no other indicia of disfluency); and mop-haired ginger Barker, whose bathroom issues produce two of the most cringe-inducing scenes of the movie year, one a humiliating career low for Crystal. Will Luddite Arnie's grandparenting style carry the day? Will Alice tearfully permit Harper to give up the violin? Will Turner overcome his stutter? Yup.

If I'd been alone in the theater, I'd give "Parental Guidance" one star. But - truth in reporting - I must admit that the pre-tweens in the audience laughed fairly consistently throughout. They deserve better; they just don't know it yet.

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