Attention, all movie fans who thought that Kathy Bates' harrowing hot-tub scene in About Schmidt was too tame: Have I got a movie for you. It's called The In-Laws, a remake of the 1979 comedy with Peter Falk as a secret agent whose son is marrying nervous dentist Alan Arkin's daughter. I have not seen that movie but want to because of the ideal casting of the rumpled, assured Falk against the genuine jitters of Arkin. Plus, I keep reading references to a very funny scene in which Falk, leading Arkin through a barrage of bullets, urges Arkin to run "Serpentine! Serpentine!" Michael Douglas is the agent here, playing opposite the typecast (but well typecast) Albert Brooks as a concerned podiatrist. I won't spoil the hot-tub surprise, but I will say that when I saw About Schmidt, the entire audience screamed a mix of gasps and laughter when Kathy Bates got nekkid. Two such screams follow in rapid succession amid the steam of The In-Laws in the most hilariously awkward moment I have experienced this year that was not at my own expense.
The plot is very simple -- and sometimes negligible. Douglas is Steve Tobias, masquerading as a Xerox distributor but who is really an undercover agent. Is he CIA? Homeland Security? Double agent? Triple agent? Foreign operative? Nobody can quite tell. But the feds have been after him for a while and they are just about to get their man -- just as his son is marrying Jerry Peyser's (Brooks') daughter (Lindsay Sloane, from Bring It On). While out to dinner at a wildly exotic Vietnamese restaurant, Jerry catches Steve in the act of agent-ing and becomes embroiled in a plot to exchange hundreds of millions of dollars for an undetectable nuclear submarine. Is there a plot to destroy the world? Not quite -- just to smuggle drugs and arms, but that's bad enough to warrant wrangling that rogue sub and for the FBI to get involved, and Jerry, unwitting carrier of the submarine's nuclear calling card, joins Steve as the hunted. What ensues: traipsing across the globe in Barbra Streisand's private jet (get a load of all those nail polishes!), weird foreign 007-ish adversaries, and a stray torpedo aimed at a Chicago lakefront wedding party!
The In-Laws is very funny. I loved it. It didn't make me think for a single moment, and yet it didn't have to resort to potty humor to get and keep my attention as so many contemporary screwball comedies feel they need to do. I didn't expect to like it, as it has a kind of lame-o preview, and I kept confusing it with that terrible-looking comedy that ALSO debuted this month with Michael and father Kirk Douglas, It Runs in the Family.
I worried for nothing. The In-Laws plays all the right moves, effortlessly skipping through action, mystery, spy, farce, and parody genres with ease and a lightweight whimsy we haven't seen from Douglas since maybe his Romancing the Stone days. In fact, an ex-wife is mentioned long before she appears, and having not seen the movie's poster, I kept hoping it would be Kathleen Turner -- since the foreshadowing suggested a celebrity cameo. It wasn't Turner, alas, but rather Candice Bergen, who herself plays an interesting and welcome variation on her run of high-strung, quippy power-moms. Regardless, Douglas is in top form. Maybe it's being married in real life to a good woman (fragrant Catherine Zeta-Jones) that has rejuvenated him, but whatever it is works: He's a perfectly charming, athletic, and at 58, still as credible a superspy as any James Bond shy of Sean Connery. Brooks, at home in the role of uptight nerve-worm, blazes no trails with his comicry but fits in just fine and plays a game wet blanket to Douglas' affable rascal. Sloane, as the daughter, and TV's Two Guys and a Girl cutie Ryan Reynolds are agreeably doofy and don't get lost in the shuffle like most kids do in movies about parents, sharing some nice moments amid the spy-jinks.
All scenes are stolen, however, by David Suchet as Jean-Pierre Thibodoux -- an intense, swishy drug-lord who develops a thing for Jerry after Steve fallaciously identifies Jerry as the infamous smuggler "Fat Cobra." Let's just say that the nickname has nothing to do with fangs and that Jean-Pierre has a thing for "snakes." His many seductions are extremely funny -- and I confess, probably homophobic -- but too silly and well-done to be very offensive (that is, until the last two lines of the movie, which caused me to wince a bit). Most famous in the States for playing Poirot on PBS, Suchet nances away with every scene he is in and provides an inspired triple-take at the film's climax that could only be believed at the end of a thoroughly giddy comedy like this. -- Bo List
The latest mockumentary from writer/director Christopher Guest and his stable of improv-schooled comedians, A Mighty Wind serves up another barrelful of fish for Guest & Co. to take aim at. After poking fun at community theater in Waiting for Guffman and dog shows in Best in Show, A Mighty Wind surveys the wreckage of the now deeply silly-looking '60s folk-revival scene.
A Mighty Wind opens, Ö la Citizen Kane, with a newsreel noting the death of a Very Important Man, in this case the founder of the fictional Folktown Records. The story is that the man's son (amusingly fussy Bob Balaban) is trying to organize a tribute concert for his dad, and because of a late-breaking open date at Town Hall, he has two weeks to recruit Folktown's three most successful acts for the concert.
Those who remember the era, firsthand especially but also simply through pop-culture excavation, will have fun spotting the subject of each act's parody: A Mighty Wind's New Main Street Singers (who cheerfully carry on without a single original member) equals the New Christy Minstrels; the Folksmen (Spinal Tap cohorts Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer) equals the Kingsmen; and Folktown's biggest stars, Mitch and Mickey (Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara) might be Sonny & Cher, though each of the latter pair of acts has a little Peter, Paul & Mary in them. (See Guest's character's very Peter/Paul male pattern baldness.)
Guest displays quite a bit more affection for these characters than he did for the hapless inhabitants of Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show, which might be either good or bad, depending on your perspective. A Mighty Wind, as a result of this relative lack of directorial cruelty, is less forceful as comedy (though, honestly, I didn't laugh much at Waiting for Guffman or Best in Show either, with the exception of Fred Willard's hilarious dog-show announcer cameo in the latter) but allows for something viewers would likely never expect from these films: poignancy.
Mitch and Mickey is a plot strand that takes on a life of its own, and Levy and especially O'Hara seem to be aiming for something more than yucks here. O'Hara's Mickey is a brave, affecting performance. A pale-faced, mousy creature with Addams Family jet-black hair, Mickey hasn't seen Mitch since they broke up 28 years ago and has since remarried to a happily oblivious catheter salesman and model-train enthusiast. But the breakup obviously had a real emotional and psychological impact on this woman, and O'Hara makes sure you feel it. Levy also moves beyond merely funny, though in a more caricatured way, as Mitch, a withdrawn, shell-shocked mental case. So interesting is this pair that an obviously silly subplot -- will the two share a kiss at the end of their trademark song "The Kiss at the End of the Rainbow" at the reunion concert the way they used to? -- becomes a source of genuine audience interest, and the intentionally sappy song doesn't seem quite so bad when one's watching O'Hara's sweet, sad Mickey sing it.
And Willard is a marvel once more, getting far too little screen time as the New Main Street Singers' uproariously crass ex-celebrity manager (of "High Class Management") who became a minor and short-lived star on some long-forgotten comedy show and is best remembered for his string of catchphrases, most notably "Wha' happened?," as he constantly reminds everyone he meets. As in Best in Show, Willard is an anarchic presence; he seems to have wandered onto the set from some other film, and where everyone else on-screen is getting laughs at the expense of the characters and their story, Willard seems to be making a mockery of the movie itself.
A Mighty Wind is the most gentle and most agreeable, if least guffaw-inducing, film in Guest's trilogy. Attempts at shock-humor -- the sunny, blond New Main Street Singers frontwoman's hard-core-porn past; a desperate-for-laughs, late-film sex change for one character --fall limp this time out. A Mighty Wind is a film that laughs with its characters where Guests' other films have laughed at them. The misanthropes in the audience might be disappointed by this, but an older crowd who remembers this scene all too well will probably appreciate the light touch. -- Chris Herrington