You’ll have to cut the makers of “The In-Laws”, a 2003 remake of a 1979 movie starring Peter Falk and Alan Arkin as the mismatched would-be father-in-laws, some slack for not being able to muster enough courage to rise above being just slightly average. As yet another entry into the growing Spy Parody genre, which could easily be mistaken for Action Comedies, “The In-Laws” stars Michael Douglas as Tobias, a CIA spy who has to juggle saving the world from a gay French arms dealer and attending the wedding of his only son Mark (Ryan Reynolds).
It’s not that “The In-Laws” is a dumb movie, it’s just that it doesn’t seem to care all that much. Like all Spy Parodies of late, the emphasis is on the series of sight gags that the premise gives birth to, while the actual plot (an afterthought, if that) is a flimsy device used to tie the whole thing together — barely. Like “Agent Cody Banks”, “I-Spy”, and even the semi-serious “Bad Company”, the premise unfortunately gets played out at around the hour mark, thus leaving the audience to deal with about half an hour of by-the-numbers filler material.
To be honest, I’m surprised the genre has gained so much steam, especially considering their poor showing at the box office. With so many failures, why does Hollywood keep making them? The biggest problem inherent in these movies is the absence of credible action. Action Comedies usually try to have it both ways — overblown “serious” violence coupled with silly comedy. The problem with that combination is that the audience knows full well the hero (or heroes, since Action Comedies are usually also Buddy Cop movies) will never be in any real danger. So where’s the investment? The best example of Action Comedies done correctly is James Cameron’s “True Lies”, which offered up credible violence while underlining the whole proceedings with subtle comedy.
But back to the movie at hand. “The In-Laws” has a number of funny gags, but for the most part it’s just barely average. The filmmakers would have been better advised to make a straight Comedy about the clashing of two distinctively different families because the whole spy angle just ends up getting in the way. In a film where Douglas is dodging bullets and leaping off buildings in parachutes, why was I more interested in the charming romance between Ryan Reynolds (“Buying the Cow”) and Lindsay Sloane?
It should also be mentioned that the makers of “The In-Laws” missed a golden opportunity to make itself more human. There is a scene where Douglas and Albert Brooks, as the nervous Jewish stereotype (er, I mean podiatrist), visit the gay French arms dealer. Here, Brooks’ character discovers that Douglas is wearing a knee brace. Brooks chides Douglas, saying that he’s an old man trying to act like a kid with all the spy stuff. But Douglas quickly dispels that notion by proving that the knee brace is instead a spy gadget, and is worn for reasons other than his character’s physical limits.
What the above shows is that Michael Douglas, movie star, is not brave enough to trade on his age, or the age of his character, for the benefit of the movie. Instead, Douglas is shown as being just as tough and agile as a 20-year old extreme sportsman, although I’d bet his stuntman would have something to say about that. And did I mention that there’s a subplot where Douglas and his fellow co-agent Angela (the very intriguing Robin Tunney) have a sort of sumthin’ sumthin’ going on? Gee, I wonder if that’s to prove that old man Douglas still has “it” with the ladies.
If you like these Spy Parodies, my suggestion is to watch “True Lies” instead. It has extremely well done action sequences and is funny to boot. The Harrier Jet scene alone is worth the price of admission.
Andrew Fleming (director) / Andrew Bergman, Nat Mauldin, Ed Solomon (screenplay)
CAST: Michael Douglas …. Steve Tobias
Vladimir Radian …. Cherkasov
Robin Tunney …. Angela Harris
Albert Brooks …. Jerry Peyser
Ryan Reynolds …. Mark Tobias