Till Death. That's It. 

The In-Laws is bigger and broader than the original, but not better.

Michael Douglas and Albert Brooks ride hard for the - laughs in The In-Laws.
  • Michael Douglas and Albert Brooks ride hard for the laughs in The In-Laws.

On occasion, an artist can find meat and meaning in a previously wan and empty offering. But more often than not, the mediocre just stays that way, no matter how much money and hope you toss at it -- the homage that evolves into unintended insult. This is one of those times.

But that assumes that there was something golden there to tarnish, for starters. For some reason, 1979's The In-Laws -- in which conniving, fast-talking Peter Falk and nebbishy, ill-tempered Alan Arkin play mismatched fathers of soon-to-be-married children -- survives as a beloved comedy; most likely, because those who adore it haven't seen it in two decades. When viewed today, the Arthur Hiller-directed film plays like most action comedies made in that decade -- sluggish and crude, like a drunk trying too hard to entertain. A few moments endure, chief among them a scene in which CIA operative Falk orders dentist Arkin to "serpentine" his way through a hail of bullets, but its grins rarely burgeon into bigger giggles. The In-Laws begs for a laugh track; its update, chromed and polished for a new millennium, goes one worse: It merely begs for a laugh.

Apologists for the first model will undoubtedly insist that the 2003 version gets it all wrong; they would be right, but for all the wrong reasons. There will be some who like this cover version better, because it's bigger, louder, faster, more expensive-looking -- hey, at least it looks like a Hollywood movie. Yet The In-Laws doesn't work on so many levels that to explain why would take more effort than the filmmakers put into their movie. It's something Jerry Bruckheimer might have made, had he not beaten himself to the sucker-punch with Bad Company, itself a self-parody; The In-Laws even opens with a bloody assassination and a Bruckheimer-like car chase, lazily scored to Wings' "Live and Let Die." (The filmmakers can't ever decide from whom they're stealing, so they pick everyone's pockets.) Fleshed out by abundant gay jokes and Candice Bergen once more reduced to the sound of fingernails scraping a chalkboard, The In-Laws plays like a midseason replacement series; it even has the built-in perennial cliffhanger of a wedding in peril.

With Michael Douglas in the Falk role and Albert Brooks in the Arkin part, this contemporary In-Laws takes from Andrew Bergman's original screenplay enough for it to merit being labeled a remake, despite what producers have insisted. Writer Nat Mauldin and director Andrew Fleming (Dick) have gone bigger (currency-manufacturing plates stolen from the Federal Reserve have morphed into a killer submarine . . . in the Great Lakes) and broader (Brooks, as foot doctor Jerry Peyser, dons a thong, hops in a hot tub, and shares a man-on-man kiss, all in the span of a few seconds). They drench their version in so much slapstick, hoping to disguise the paucity of wit. Still, it winds up like all Hollywood comedies these days -- merely resembling something funny.

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