In its own silly way, the new version of “The In-Laws” reflects how we’re living in speedier, more dangerous times than 23 years ago, when the original and consistently funny film first walked down the aisle. In exchange for Peter Falk, now there is Michael Douglas at his most energetic and James Bond-like as a gallivanting CIA agent; for Alan Arkin, there is Albert Brooks at his most dyspeptic as a respectable Chicago podiatrist; and instead of the Andrew Bergman script directed by Arthur Hiller with a keen sense of putting Falk and Arkin front and center, the 2003 edition written by Nat Mauldin and Ed Solomon and helmed by Andrew Fleming places the Douglas-Brooks combo inside a much more complicated if not quite as funny world. Younger auds may sense a lack of hipness, but the stars’ fans and mildly good word of mouth should push this rare adult-oriented comedy release to solid, midrange returns.
The fact that Mauldin and Solomon’s script openly acknowledges the adaptation from Bergman’s own provides a healthy template to follow for the long train of Hollywood re-dos rumbling down the track, but it also misleadingly suggests this particular remake closely follows its predecessor. The essential outline remains intact: Only days before his daughter’s wedding, Brooks’ Jerry Peyser meets the father of the groom — Douglas’ globe-hopping snoop Steve Tobias — who immediately gets the unsuspecting and safety-conscious doc involved in a series of wild, deep-cover ops that play out as good-natured spoofs of Bondian derring-do.
And like Falk and Arkin’s odd couple, this pair end up doing that other kind of bonding — of the male sort — that apparently only comes from surviving near-death thrills together. But it is between the Bonding and the bonding that the differences between the two films lie, some of them improvements, some falling inescapably short of the original.
Douglas’ Steve blows into the film with gusto, escaping a nearly botched operation in Prague and getting away via private jet with ambitious partner Angela (Robin Tunney) aching for more responsibility. It’s likely Falk’s spy wouldn’t even know where to start, or how to keep up, with Steve, and the way Douglas pitches his performance at the high throttle of an aggressive salesman confident of closing the deal sets him in stark contrast with Brooks, moving at his patented studied pace. This provides the ensuing comic adventure with more effective friction than that between Falk and Arkin, whose approach was that of a finely honed vaudeville act.
Steve is on a quest, between frantic dinner with the in-laws-to-be, to frame arms dealer Jean-Louis Thibodoux (David Suchet), who plans to buy an attack sub. How Steve manages to get Jerry out of the comfort zone of his office and life with wife Katherine (Maria Ricossa) and daughter Melissa (Lindsay Sloane), and into jetting — in Barbra Streisand’s Gulfstream, which may or may not have been stolen by Steve — to France as his fellow secret agent is too strained by even this movie’s goofy standards. Still, it isn’t quite so outrageous that Douglas and Brooks — clearly enjoying themselves as they build their high-stress routine — can’t propel auds over the plot turbulence.
To its detriment, pic trucks in several unfortunate stereotypes, from chattering Chinese waiters in an early action sequence, to Suchet’s Thibodoux, whose predatory gay attraction to Jerry nearly grinds things to a halt and is by far pic’s least amusing running gag. And though “The In-Laws” obeys the action movie rule to finish with your biggest bang, it flubs comedy’s cardinal rule to exit on a punchline.
Because of some smart casting choices, Douglas’ workaholic spy has a richer private life than Falk’s character was afforded — from Ryan Reynolds as Steve’s long-suffering son to Candice Bergen in a sharp, brittle turn as his caustic ex-wife. Tunney, as an agent with her own agenda, has some unexpected moves that keep Steve in his usual mode of permanent crisis. In a post 9-11 world where law enforcement figures would seem above reproach, the movie makes pleasing fun of a clueless squadron of FBI agents chasing their own tail, led by the amusing Russell Andrews.
The handsome production package features pro lensing by Alexander Gruszynski and an especially clever array of pop standards ranging from Paul McCartney to Yma Sumac, with the added retro touch of an onscreen appearance by K.C. and the Sunshine Band. Effects work is a bit subpar.