Father's Day

Who, by now, would bother to make fun of a mime? Mimes enjoyed a moment of cachet around the time they were used in Blow-Up (1966), but since then few comedy cliches have been more universally embraced than the notion that mimes are precious, annoying, and generally worthy of the highest contempt. Over the years, they have been poked, prodded, punched, and ridiculed for their crimes of cloyingness. Yet here’s Billy Crystal in Father’s Day, establishing his I’m-a-cool-guy credentials by ranting on about how much he hates, really hates mimes. At the end of the bit, he turns to his costar, Robin Williams, and deadpans, ”You’re not a mime, are you?”

Funny! And the hilarity doesn’t end there. Williams, running through a series of quicksilver impersonations, does — get this — a rap parody. Later, he speaks in the voice of Elvis Presley (a joke that manages to seem nearly as fresh now as it did 15 years ago). He also suffers an incredible bout of jitters on an airplane and, when an outrageous bit of slapstick is called for, gets hot coffee spilled on his lap. Oh, the pain! Every comedy needs its embarrassing classic-rock joke, of course, and in Fathers’ Day there’s the scene in which Crystal, getting down with his bad self, does a ”funky” dance to Sly & the Family Stone’s ”I Want to Take You Higher,” explaining that ”you can’t help but wiggle your ass when you listen to Sly.” What could top that? You guessed it: the sight of Williams joining in with his wild and crazy parody of the funky chicken.

At Fathers’ Day, I had the disquieting sensation not of seeing two funny men but of watching two comedians from a distant age go through the motions of what they, all evidence to the contrary, still believe to be funny. The whole movie feels like something from a distant age. It appears to have slipped out of the mid-’80s, an era that, in comedy terms, might as well be as old as vaudeville. The director, Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters, Twins), and the screenwriters, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (Splash, City Slickers), have remade the 1984 French farce Les Comperes, in which two men are told by the same woman that each is the father of her missing teenage son. They team up to find him, and the search turns into a mad battle over who’s the real dad. Fathers’ Day might have generated some raffish humor had it allowed Crystal and Williams to go at each other. But Reitman, who as the producer of Private Parts was canny enough to get Howard Stern’s acid spontaneity on screen, here shifts into fuzzy-wuzzy family-values mode (Junior, Kindergarten Cop). He wants us to love these two guys, to feel their desperation, to see the hole they’re trying to fill with daddyhood. Does anything kill a joke as quickly as ”warmth”?

Reitman obviously forgot one of the inviolable rules of movie comedy: When you mount an American remake of a whacked-out French farce, it’s sure to be even more grating than the original. Crystal and Williams locate their delinquent ”son” at a punk-rock concert, and it’s up to them to turn the kid (Charlie Hofheimer), who looks about as delinquent as Archie, into a wholesome human being. Crystal plays straight man to Williams, who is meant to be playing a suicidal wreck. Except that his patented improv bits — little bursts of look-at-me cleverness — advertise his confidence as a performer, completely undercutting the character’s nervous Nellie insecurity. There are few sights in comedy more desperate than Robin Williams acting ”frightened” by pretending to be a motormouth so that he can work in his impression of…Elvis Presley. If Fathers’ Day really had been released in the mid-’80s, I’d have said it was so funny I forgot to laugh. D+

Father's Day
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