But it remains easy enough to see the film for what it is — an exceedingly safe and conven-
tional Chris Columbus comedy, his first since the blockbuster “Mrs. Doubtfire ,” that switches at will from laugh-making to heart-tugging.
Based on a French feature that was successful on its home turf but never made it into U.S. release, Americanized version retains the same basic set of characters but has veered away from the original’s concentration on the comic physical side effects of pregnancy as well as its critique of hospital conditions and medical practice.
Grant stars as consummate yuppie Samuel Faulkner, a breezy young man who’s got it all — red Porsche, San Francisco apartment with a bay view, thriving practice as — ha ha — a child psychiatrist, and a lovely girlfriend of five years, Rebecca Taylor (Julianne Moore).
When Rebecca announces that she’s pregnant, Samuel runs his fancy car off the road from the shock. The news also sends Grant rifling through his repertoire of befuddled reactions, including much rapid eyelid fluttering, slight stammering and panicked expressions camouflaged by polite smiles.
Unable to summon the nerve to tell his beloved he simply doesn’t want the kid , Samuel starts suffering from discarded-mate/praying mantis nightmares. Things don’t get much better when, at their first doctor visit, they draw a newly arrived medic from Russia (a hilariously malapropistic Robin Williams) who has previously treated only animals, or when Rebecca’s new moods force Samuel to face the prospect of life without sex.
When Samuel’s indifference and lack of commitment become too much for her, Rebecca stomps out and moves in with her new best friend, Gail (Joan Cusack), latter’s boorish husband, Marty (Tom Arnold), and their three monster kids.
Left hanging, Samuel momentarily tries to revive his bachelor ways at the encouragement of swinger pal Sean (Jeff Goldblum). But watching a video of his sprout in utero makes Samuel feel like taking “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” to bed rather than a winsome blond babe, and he realizes it’s time to grow up and smell the diapers.
In the scene that could easily provoke some unwanted laughs, Grant’s Samuel comes groveling to a bedridden Rebecca to beg her forgiveness and try to win her back. “I was a disgrace,” he admits, adding, “You had every right to walk out on me.” (A police mug shot of Grant that appeared in the film’s trailer to vast audience amusement is nowhere to be seen in the finished film, nor is his character ever arrested.)
Pic degenerates with a ridiculous slapstick race to the hospital, but rebounds with some delivery room farce in which Williams’ Russian doc reassumes center stage to bring his first baby into the world.
Frantically calling for Anastasia instead of anesthesia, the madcap thesp has a field day putting a comic capper on the film before the expected feel-good wrap-up. Some amusing end-credit real-life snapshots of the pic’s stars as toddlers will send auds out chuckling.
All the film’s humor and sentiments play right into the most commonly held “family values,” so this will hardly be the ticket for anyone looking for something edgy, sophisticated or hip. But heartlanders should eat it up, provided they don’t stay away due to the Grant controversy. If they do see the film, actor’s domestic acceptance will be confirmed and amplified by virtue of his winning ways here.
Amply conveying his character’s squirmy discomfort at the prospect of fatherhood and loss of freedom, Grant does lay on the mugging and facial contortions a bit thick at times, but his debonair manner and appealing personality do a lot to put the film over.
Moore is winsome and just serious enough as his well-matched mate, while Goldblum, Arnold and Cusack supply effective shtick as combination sounding boards and saviors for the pressured leading characters.
Action could be taking place down the block from where “Mrs. Doubtfire” was set. San Francisco is used for its usual scenic value and upscale ambience, and production values are sparkling down the line.
Among the many credited producers, Anne Francois produced and Christopher Lambert exec produced the French original version.