Daniel Hillard/ Fox’s only major holiday offering should stuff its stockings with a favorite holiday color — green. Although overly sappy in places and probably 20 minutes too long, this Robin Williams-in-drag vehicle provides the comic a slick surface for doing his shtick, within a story possessing broad family appeal. With those elements and a little luck, “Mrs. Doubtfire” may even cover the tab for Williams’ last Fox outing, “Toys.”
Director Chris Columbus shrewdly brings together many of the same selling points as in his “Home Alone” movies, mixing broad comedic strokes with heavy-handed messages about the magical power of family.
Foremost, however, the director and writers Randi Mayem Singer and Leslie Dixon have crafted a showcase for Williams (who also produced the film) that allows the comic to display his machine-gun-like wit and still play a character — without, for the most part, bringing the action to a screeching halt each time he goes off.
While the concept screams “Tootsie,” the tone is more “Mr. Mom.” Williams plays a flaky, unemployed actor (the inspired opening has him voicing original animation provided by the venerable Chuck Jones) who quickly botches his son’s birthday party and ends up getting tossed out by his wife (Sally Field).
Enormously attached to his kids but limited to weekly visitation, Daniel (Williams) and his brother (Harvey Fierstein), a gay makeup artist, hatch the plan of having Williams masquerade as a matronly nanny — the better to steal precious hours with his three adorable moppets.
Columbus and the writers provide all the expected broad strokes, from Williams’ agonizing over the misogynist who invented high heels to his manfully warding off a would-be purse-snatcher, and including an obligatory montage that smacks of “Risky Business” in a skirt.
The pic does reveal occasional inspiration, however, in terms of sharp dialogue — particularly Daniel’s costumed efforts to dissuade Miranda (Field) from acting on her attraction to an old beau (Pierce Brosnan) — and in scenes of well-choreographed slapstick lunacy, among them an unexpected visit from a court-appointed supervisor and a crowning scene in which Daniel/Mrs. Doubtfire fulfills two dinner engagements at the same time.
Williams seems most comfortable playing such childlike characters, but few of his films — other than “Dead Poets Society,””Good Morning, Vietnam” and, perhaps most notably, the animated “Aladdin”– have as deftly allowed the comic to strut his comedic stuff and still create a character.
That said, “Mrs. Doubtfire’s” warm-fuzzy aspects prove a bit much, from the raspy Sally Brown voice on the wide-eyed youngest daughter (Mara Wilson) to the ham-fisted and plentiful “You’re OK even if your parents aren’t together” speeches.
Indeed, the filmmakers bend over backward to make the mom and her boyfriend sympathetic — apparently another pseudo-public-service announcement that you don’t need bad people to have a bad marriage. Still, it’s hard to imagine Miranda not wanting to pummel the exposed Daniel after pouring her heart out to him, as Mrs. Doubtfire, about their life.
Greg Cannom warrants kudos for the amusing body makeup (someone should have told De Niro about this before “Raging Bull”), while the usually reliable Howard Shore lays the powder on a bit thick with his saccharine score. One tastes that too-sweet flavor periodically in “Mrs. Doubtfire,” but not enough to spoil the mixture.