Unable to sustain its wobbly premise, "Mr. Dad" is an unremarkable directing debut from actor Kad Merad ("Welcome to the Sticks").

Unable to sustain its wobbly premise, “Mr. Dad” is an unremarkable directing debut from actor Kad Merad (“Welcome to the Sticks”). Most of the problems lie with a screenplay that assumes the mom of a growing lad (and stalwart CEO of her family company) lacks the willpower to come clean about his long-absent father, inventing a substitute dad in the process. Local June 1 opening should produce mild B.O.; Hollywood remake options seem thin.

Increasingly worried about the snotty behavior of son Marius (Gaspard Meier-Chaurand) and his habit of asking questions about his adventurer father — who left before the lad was old enough to remember him — Marie (Michele Laroque) struggles to find the right words and time to tell him the whole story. To make matters worse, Marius has started to act out, getting nabbed for shoplifting.

Meanwhile, Marie’s company, on the cusp of its centennial, is battling for a lucrative contract in South Africa, and she’s locking horns with immediate underling Jean-Laurent (Vincent Perez), who questions her executive decisions. Seemingly unrelated to all of this, Robert (Merad), laid off from his accountant job at the company is making ends meet by ironing his neighbors’ garments.

Just as Marius’ behavior inexplicably improves, Marie has the cockeyed notion to hire Robert as Marius’ “dad,” with instructions to be as obnoxious as possible so the boy will no longer want to see him. Auds are certain to be several steps ahead of the scenario’s feeble sense of comic cleverness, foreseeing that, some way or another, Marius and Robert will bond and thus thwart Marie’s ridiculous plans.

Indeed, Marie’s notions are so ridiculous that it’s hard not to hope that her plot doesn’t blow up in her face, and her lack of sense about her son is matched only by the film’s lack of insight into the boy’s character, as when Marius, who hates sports, suddenly loves playing rugby with Robert.

Merad maintains the same subdued tone as an actor he brought to “Sticks,” and his rapport with the barely likable Meier-Chaurand is at least credible. As a director, Merad is far blander. Laroque has an impossible task with the lose-lose role of Marie, but at least this pro keeps her head above water. Perez occasionally chews the scenery.

Production package is suitably slick for a Pathe-produced boulevard comedy.

Mr. Dad

France

Production

A Pathe (in France) release of a Pathe Prod./Arcadia Films production in co-production with Eskwad/M6 Films/Bel Ombre/Produire a Paris. (International sales: Pathe, Paris.) Produced by Romain Le Grand, Judith Aubry. Executive producer, Frederic Doniguian. Co-producer, Richard Grandpierre. Directed by Kad Merad. Screenplay, Anne Valton, Luc Chaumar; dialogue, Emmanuelle Cosso-Merad.

Crew

Camera (color), Regis Blondeau; editor, Christophe Pinel; music, Daran; production designer, Isabelle Delbecq; costume designer, Charlotte Betaillole; sound (DTS/Dolby Digital), Laurent Zelig; supervising sound editor, Pascal Villard; re-recording mixer, Thomas Gauder; line producer, Frederic Doniguian; assistant director, Thierry Mauvoisin; casting, Agathe Hassenforder. Reviewed at City of Lights, City of Angels Film Festival, Los Angeles, April 18, 2011. Running time: 89 MIN.

With

Michele Laroque, Kad Merad, Gaspard Meier-Chaurand, Vincent Perez, Judith El Zein. (French, Mandarin dialogue)

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