What The In-Laws has going for it are jovial performances by Michael Douglas and Albert Brooks, who clearly look like they’re having a grand old time. The good news is they’re in almost every frame of the film. They brighten up what’s otherwise a tepid mix of lame jokes and run-of-the-mill action sequences in this remake of a 1979 film starring Peter Falk and Alan Arkin.
Douglas plays Steve Tobias, a wacky CIA operative (only in the movies!) who doesn’t do the best job separating his home life from some exceedingly violent travails at work. A typical day for Steve rivals that of a super hero. He escapes speeding bullets and punches out mysterious bad guys as easy as pie. He also has a young babe sidekick Angela (Robin Tunney) who complains about not having enough to do because Steve always steals her thunder. It’s easy to agree with the character; except for supplying just the tiniest morsel of eye candy, there’s no apparent plot-related reason why she’s in the movie.
Steve’s son, Mark (Ryan Reynolds), is engaged to Melissa (Lindsay Sloane), whose dad Jerry Peyser (Brooks) is a neurotic podiatrist who wears a fanny pack stocked with emergency supplies (not as funny a bit as the writers believe). He’s also extremely pleased to be the person in charge of planning all the detailed arrangements for his daughter’s big day.
When the young couple tries to get their folks together for pre-wedding festivities, things go awry. It all starts when Steve suggests they dine at an exotic (and seedy) Asian restaurant, where a horrified Jerry witnesses Steve in a gunfight with an enemy agent in the restroom. Despite his protestations, Jerry gets sucked in to Steve’s wild and crazy international spy-guy exploits.
But because screenwriters Nat Mauldin and Ed Solomon (who based their work on the screenplay from the previous film) don’t really come up with any particularly innovative or amusing twists (there’s talk of a submarine, arms smuggling and a menacing woman named Olga), the film, is inert – mostly. But the fun acting by Douglas and Brooks — and a short but inspired performance by Candice Bergen as Steve’s bitter, alternative-lifestyle-seeking ex-wife Judy — add a tiny spark to these dull proceedings.
One notably spunky scene has a foreign crime lord in a hot tub with Brooks, who surprisingly shows a side that audiences haven’t seen from the comedian thus far. While avid Brooks and Douglas fans may be mildly amused by The In-Laws, average moviegoers will likely find the film an experience about as enjoyable as a visit with real-life in-laws.