Robin Williams and Billy Crystal can each provoke a lot more laughs in a minute of standup than they jointly manage during the entire running time of "Fathers' Day." This wan American redo of the 1983 French comedy hit "Les Comperes" mechanically pushes the humor button one moment and the sentiment button the next, with results that will prove only mildly diverting to even the most undemanding audiences. Star names and family orientation of the material will ensure solid mainstream B.O. response. Even though Williams plays a former San Francisco hippie who still hasn't got his life together, the comic actor continues to move away from his former antic brilliance, here remaining in the squishy, emotions-on-his-sleeve vein of "Jack" and other recent outings. Crystal, on the other hand, strides through it all in the nonchalant manner of Jack Benny or George Burns, but with precious little of his customary sass. Combo of styles just doesn't strike the hoped-for sparks.
Francis Veber’s “Les Comperes,” which starred Pierre Richard and Gerard Depardieu, seemed like potentially promising material for an Americanization toplining such high-caliber performers. Situation-heavy plot centers upon a scheme hatched by a long-ago girlfriend of both men in which she separately informs each that he is the father of her 16-year-old son, who has recently run away. Duly enchanted by the notion of fatherhood, they begin the hunt and decide to team up when they inevitably bump into each other.
Adaptation fashioned by scripters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel has Crystal playing Jack Lawrence, a smoothly successful L.A. lawyer in a childless marriage to Carrie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). Told by former flame Collette (Nastassja Kinski) that “their” son, Scott (Charlie Hofheimer), was last seen heading off with a girl and that they were probably headed north, he flies to San Francisco to interview the girl’s belligerent father.
On the same trail is Dale Putley (Williams), a putz-at-large whose writing talents remain undiscovered by the public and who teaches “English as a third language at the Jewish Community Center.” Dale has some very tiresome traits, such as passing out at the wheel of his car and panicking from fear of flying, but his general incompetence doesn’t prevent him and Jack from catching up with Scott in pretty short order, tracking him down at a rock concert in Sacramento.
Returning the passed-out kid to S.F., the guys manage to let him escape, a bad idea since, in another tedious development, Scott is holding some money for some cartoon-like drug dealers. Intercut with this pursuit is yet another sideline episode, in which the dad who has been raising Scott all these years (Bruce Greenwood) gets stuck in a portable latrine and, at great length but with no comic dividends, has to be rescued by an amiable trucker.
With sentiment, and the unsurprising revelation of the true father’s identity, taking hold, final reel seems entirely composed of meaningful hugging among everyone in the cast, emphasizing the renewed appreciation of family and bonding by the principals. It’s all less earned than it is programmed to strike the predictable notes of audience sympathy.
There is, of course, a comfort level in having Williams and Crystal onscreen nearly all the time, a friendliness that encourages viewers to go with the flow in full confidence that diversion will be their reward. “Fathers’ Day” doesn’t exactly betray that confidence, but it does decrease expectations about the bigscreen work of these two funnymen.
Ivan Reitman’s direction is perfunctory, leaning heavily on formula and knee-jerk response to the situations presented, and tech credits are strictly routine. Paul McCartney’s two original tunes penned for the pic have a customary upbeat jauntiness, while Mel Gibson pops up in a one-shot cameo as a heavily tattooed and body-pierced bloke at a rock festival.