Reminiscent of old Hollywood, this uneven comedy is probably more interesting for the off-screen grist it provided the tabloid mill than anything on-camera. Still, with its undeniable “feel-good” elements, Whoopi Goldberg’s heavenly glow off “Sister Act” and Ted Danson still basking in the “Cheers” finale, pic could make some OK early deposits before more interesting summer fare forces its withdrawal.
At least “Made in America” has the distinction of being better than the last movie involving a sperm bank, “Frozen Assets,” though at times the humor — overplayed to nearly shrill levels — seems to come from the same test tube.
The plot has Zora (Nia Long), an honors high-school student, discovering that her mother Sarah (Goldberg) actually conceived her after her father’s death using a donation from a sperm bank.
Wanting to find her biological dad, Zora raids the sperm bank files and finds the name of Hal Jackson (Danson) — a Cal Worthington-like car salesman who cavorts on-air with elephants, bears and chimps and, to the chagrin of both mother and daughter, turns out to be white. Hostile toward each other at first, an unlikely relationship develops between Hal and Sarah.
The setup has obvious comedic and romantic possibilities, but director Richard Benjamin, whose career has generally been on a downward arc since his impressive 1982 debut with “My Favorite Year,” plays the first half of the movie at such an over-the-top, cartoonish pitch that it’s hard to relate to any of the characters.
Then, in an effort to bring Sarah and Hal’s relationship to a crisis point, the action suddenly veers into a heavy-handed, semi-serious mode that doesn’t mesh with the screwball opening.
If there’s chemistry (pardon the expression) between Danson and Goldberg, it’s certainly not allowed to unfold adequately or with any sense of pacing in Holly Goldberg Sloan’s script. The race issue, for example, quickly dissipates, which would be fine if Sarah and Hal hadn’t each made such a point of it early on.
In fact, both Danson and Goldberg are better than this material, and perhaps as a result it’s the supporting players who end up stealing much of the film, particularly rapper Will Smith as Zora’s nerdy friend and a golden-locked Jennifer Tilly as Hal’s airheaded aerobics instructor girlfriend.
Also meriting honors is the adorable Long, Cuba Gooding Jr.’s virtuous girlfriend in “Boyz N the Hood,” who brings the requisite sweetness and determination to a role that, again, at times deserts her on paper, where the audience can only look at Zora’s reaction and say “Huh?”
Mark Isham’s score proves overbearing at times as Benjamin lays on the corn, while other tech credits are generally undistinguished. Pic does wind up with a jaunty, closing-credit rap number that provides a more energizing mix than much of what preceded it.