By Kurt Jensen
Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — Though it means well, "Parental Guidance" (Fox) suffers from an excess of potty humor.
Granted, they’re family-style potty gags, and every parent of a young child has probably experienced similar incidents to what is portrayed. It’s just that such humor is a sign of desperation; it means the filmmakers have no better ideas.
One of the very few performers to handle such material successfully was the late Bernie Mac in his eponymous sitcom. It worked there because first of all, it was a half-hour program, and second, because children out of control in any way made Mac’s character affect wounded dignity, do a slow burn or erupt in anger, and he had talented writers and versatile ways of putting this across.
Nothing of the kind here, alas. Director Andy Fickman and screenwriters Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse, working from an idea of Billy Crystal’s (who stars), produce some very stale and predictable ideas in this slow-moving story of grandparents who try to connect with grandchildren they’ve almost never seen.
Crystal is Artie Decker, who has longed to become a big-league radio announcer but has only gotten as far as calling games for the Fresno Grizzlies, the Triple-A farm team of the San Francisco Giants. For 35 years, he’s wanted to work for the Giants, but loses his Fresno job when the team owner decides he’s old-fashioned and attracts only older listeners.
At the same time, his daughter, Alice (Marisa Tomei), and son-in-law, Phil (Tom Everett Scott), who live overscheduled lives in Atlanta, have a chance to reconnect romantically on a weeklong sales conference in Hilton Head, S.C., for the "smart homes" Phil designs.
His parents are on a cruise. That means calling in "the other grandparents" — Artie and Diane (Bette Midler) — to take care of grandchildren they’ve not seen in years.
The children are wary of these earthy grandparents and have issues of their own. Aspiring violinist Harper (Bailee Madison), 12, is uncertain whether music is her life’s goal; 9-year-old Turner (Joshua Rush) stutters and is bullied in school, and 5-year-old Barker (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf) has an imaginary kangaroo friend named Carl, who makes all his decisions for him.
There’s a running gag involving a rude rhyme with Artie’s name, and Breitkopf is assigned all the scenes involving scatological matters.
Political incorrectness ensues. Artie can’t understand why all Turner’s baseball games end in ties and kids stay at the plate until they get a hit, while Diane, a former TV weather girl, enjoys playing an aggressive stage mother to Harper. Barker confuses everyone and nearly stops a performance of the Atlanta Symphony, and Artie unsuccessfully auditions for a job announcing the X Games on ESPN.
Grandparental attention, even the clumsy kind, eventually helps all the children overcome their problems. Special use is made of a recording of the broadcast of Bobby Thomson’s dramatic ninth-inning home run that captured the 1951 National League pennant for the then-New York Giants.
The film contains childish scatological humor. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested.
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Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.