‘Parental Guidance’ Review: Billy Crystal and Bette Midler Struggle to Revive Outdated Comedy Cliches (MOVIE REVIEW)

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This Christmas, comic A-listers from the 80s and 90s Billy Crystal and Bette Midlerreturn to the big screen in Parental Guidance, a new comedy contrasting old-school parenting with contemporary over-weaning.

Director Andy Fickman and writers Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse (re-written by Crystal stalwarts Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel) march through a series of contrivances born of some unholy union between America’s Funniest Home Videos and Leave it to Beaver.

Crystal and Midler play Fresno retirees Artie and Diane Decker. Artie is a baseball announcer whose lifelong ambition is to broadcast for the Giants.

When we meet him, he is announcing a ballgame for a Fresno farm team, letting loose with mean-spirited jokes about fat girls and creaky references to Jerry Garcia.

Moments later he is fired not for his stale sense of humor but for not facebooking and tweeting. (“I’ll tweet,” Artie says. “I’ll make whatever noise you want.”)

Days later, Artie and Diane arrive in an Atlanta suburb at the home of their daughter Alice (a slumming Marisa Tomei), her husband Phil (Tom Everett Scott) and their three problematic progeny, Harper, Turner and Barker.

Harper is a violin virtuoso who’s too uptight for pre-teen, Turner stutters (unconvincingly), and Barker is a brat with an imaginary pet kangaroo. They are the dysfunctional, though “darling,” product of cliched hyper-sensitive parenting.

While Crystal and Midler try their hand at babysitting (apparently making lunch for three kids requires the organizational skills of a wedding planner and the energy of a meth-head), Artie emerges not so much as a quick-witted, kindly old codger, but more like an obnoxious lout.

He insults Turner (the stutterer) to his speech therapist, not realizing the boy is standing beside him.

He takes Barker on a “job interview” he thinks he has with ESPN covering the X-Games, where he tries to act like a twenty-something. Meanwhile, the kid desperately needs to pee, relieving himself in a way that winds up making headlines.

Where Crystal grates on the audience, Midler is a little easier to abide. She encourages Harper to relax about her upcoming violin audition, threatening the Russian music instructor to ease up or “There won’t be anything left of you but some red hair and an accent.”

When it comes to parenting, Midler seems occasionally clueless but never as obnoxious as Crystal, portraying a kindly but befuddled grandma most audiences will find familiar and endearing.

Crystal and Midler look like they’re having fun together (even if we’re not), whether they’re “improvising” a song and dance number to “The Book Of Love,” or playing kick the can in the rain in yet another contrived sequence.

In the middle of it all, Tomei stands around looking worried — though whether for her children or her career, it’s hard to tell. She won an Oscar in 1992 for her work in My Cousin Vinny and went on to build an enviable career, receiving another nomination for The Wrestler and delivering a memorable turn in last year’s TheIdes Of March. But that she should find herself sinking to a movie of this caliber is no surprise, given Hollywood’s treatment of middle-aged women.

As her husband, Tom Everett Scott escapes to a business retreat in Hilton Head, South Carolina, where he mercifully sits out most of the movie, checking in every now and again to do an awful impersonation of a British rocker.

Fickman, the director of such gems as The Game Plan, Who’s The Man and You Again, continues to administer the blandest hand in Hollywood, dumbing down wherever possible and offering a facsimile of human emotion at best eerily echoing real life.

It could be these are movies he actually longs to make, or they are movies in which he willingly performs the part of a studio proxy, putting on camera the thousand bad ideas born of feckless development meetings. Whatever the case, his movies are not quite toxic, but are about as tasty as pre-digested cream of corn.

On the other hand, if Parental Guidance is meant to represent the average American family, it does so with a menage of inept and obnoxious imbeciles. If that was the intention, then maybe it is a little toxic.

Parental Guidance hits theaters on December 25, 2012. Will you check this one out Christmas Day? Sound off in the comments!

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