Twins don’t have to look alike, but in the dithering and maladroit road comedy “Father Figures,” Ed Helms and Owen Wilson play bickering brothers who are fraternal twins, and the casting doesn’t sit right; the two actors never convince us that they were baptized in the same physical or spiritual DNA. Helms is Peter Reynolds, a proctologist (are you laughing yet?), divorced and lonely, with a teen son who hates him. He’s supposed to be a miserable uptight crank, but since Helms comes off more like a Teddy Bear nerd, the characterization doesn’t quite parse. That said, he’s a major pill next to Owen Wilson, who is cast as yet another whiny-cooey-voiced Owen Wilson king of mellow — a dude who lives off his residuals from having served as the model for a sketch on a jar of barbecue sauce.
These two were raised by their devoted single mother, Helen (Glenn Close), but can’t stand each other. When they come together for her late-in-life wedding, she drops a major bombshell: She tells them who their father is. The reason she never told them before is that “it was the ’70s,” and she was a “wild” girl at Studio 54 — as if these rudimentary screenwriter signifiers somehow explained everything. Then she drops an even bigger bombshell: Their father, she says, is Terry Bradshaw. Yes, the Terry Bradshaw: football legend, sports-analyst legend, low-kitsch movie and TV actor.
“Father Figures” starts off as a who’s-your-daddy concept comedy. Peter and Kyle fly down to Miami Beach, where they meet Bradshaw — playing himself — as he signs autographs at the opening of one of his car dealerships. He’s a happy fleshy good ol’ boy, living like an aging beach rum (Bradshaw, at 69, looks like a moon-faced Mike Love), and it’s supposed to be a hoot that he reacts to their paternity news with open arms. The reason he does is that Helen, who he shacked up with back when “it was the ’70s,” is, by the film’s own description — well, let’s just say that she’s made to sound like a porn star, and the fact that we’re talking about our heroes’ mother (and that she’s played by the decorous and classy Glenn Close) is supposed to make the raunchy crudeness hilarious. It does not. It makes it awkward and incongruous.
But that’s just one more lame screenwriter gambit. “Father Figures,” written by Justin Malen (who wrote “Office Christmas Party”) and directed by Lawrence Sher (the veteran megaplex-comedy cinematographer who shot the “Hangover” films), is a limply spritzing fountain of unconvincing (and unfunny) tricks out of the how-to-write-a-comedy-hit manual. I don’t want to give too much away, but suffice to say that Peter and Kyle, in search of the man from whose loins they sprung, find their way to J.K. Simmons as a tattooed hothead wack job who poses as a repo man and lives with his mother (June Squibb).
Simmons, unlike Bradshaw, is an actual thespian, but he can’t do much besides phone in this over-the-top Johnny one-note. And though I admit I’d probably be complaining if the film trotted out three more potential dads, “Father Figures” does something even less lively: It begins to act like a sincere heartwarmer about two brothers learning to have each other’s backs. There are black-eye fights, hugs, and a just-add-water romance. You may begin to miss the porn-mommy jokes — though have no fear, they’ll be back.
Yet even as the dirty talk escalates, pinging in one scene off the possibility of incest, so — astoundingly — does the sentimentality. That must be why “Father Figures” is opening Christmas weekend. We’ve already had “Daddy’s Home 2” and “A Bad Moms Christmas” (his and hers synthetic parental holiday comedies), but “Father Figures,” which leaves you with the image of Ed Helms and Owen Wilson hugging it out to heal each other’s inner wound, turns into an overdose of emotional eggnog. It’s enough to make you wonder: Can a movie reach your heart if it’s already clogged your arteries?