Father Figures

father-figures-rev Father Figures  (2017)    Warner Bros./Comedy    RT: 113 minutes    Rated R (language, sexual references throughout)    Director: Lawrence Sher    Screenplay: Justin Malen    Music: Rob Simonsen    Cinematography: John Lindley    Release date: December 22, 2017 (US)    Cast: Owen Wilson, Ed Helms, Glenn Close, Terry Bradshaw, Ving Rhames, J.K. Simmons, Christopher Walken, Katt Williams, Katie Aselton, Jessica Gomes, Harry Shearer, June Squibb, Retta.  

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 Some things in life just can’t be unseen no matter what you do. I’m still going to try like hell to erase the image of Owen Wilson and a child urinating on each other in a rest stop bathroom (with the kid’s father’s encouragement no less) in Father Figures, this year’s lump of coal in moviegoers’ stockings. It’s bad but not for the usual reasons. Most R-rated comedies these days wallow in crudeness and gross sight gags involving bodily fluids and objects getting stuck in certain body orifices. Father Figures is too uncertain about its identity to distinguish itself in any way, good or bad. It’s a movie in search of a personality. It doesn’t know whether it wants to be a raunchy road trip movie or a heartwarming comedy about family. It fails at both.  

 father-figuresThe only funny thing about Father Figures is that the studio thought they could release it under its original title Bastards. I knew when I saw the trailer way back when (it was supposed to come out more than a year ago) that the title would be changed at some point before its (twice-delayed) release. Sure enough, WB had to change the title for advertising purposes. TV stations won’t shows ads for movies with a curse word in the title; theaters won’t display posters for such movies either. So it is that it came to be called Father Figures, a decidedly less controversial title. If only they could have swapped the movie itself for a more entertaining one.

 Ed Helms (The Hangover) and Owen Wilson (Wedding Crashers) star as 40-year-old fraternal twins who discover that the man they thought was their father their entire lives isn’t their dad. This revelation is brought up at the wedding of their mother (Close, Fatal Attraction) who admits that she’s been lying all these years. Their real father, she tells them, is retired pro-football player Terry Bradshaw (as himself). The two brothers decide to go to Miami to meet their dad only to find that there are other men who could be their father. It was the 70s, after all. Casual, unprotected sex was still a thing. Their journey leads to encounters with their mother’s many lovers including Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction), J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) and Christopher Walken (The Deer Hunter). Along the way, they also pick up a hitchhiker, a black man (comedian Williams) they tie up in the back despite his assurances he’s not a serial killer.  

 As I’m firm believer in giving credit where it’s due, I will acknowledge that Father Figures isn’t quite as offensive as other recent “comedies”. I think back to the 2015 Vacation reboots with its jokes about rim jobs, glory holes and touching children inappropriately. If anything, the crude content in Father Figures   is curiously muted. Besides the urination scene, we get jokes about incest and cat testicles (an enormous pair!). It still isn’t that funny. It’s mainly because director Lawrence Sher never settles on a tone. It’s not even clear which audience he’s targeting. Although it centers on two males, it’s not really a bro-centric frat comedy. There’s only one character under the age of 40 (Helms’ preteen son) and he’s not in it that much. It’s too raunchy for the AARP crowd. I wouldn’t call it a chick flick either even though the only ones in the theater laughing were women. To be fair, it’s Sher’s first time running the show. He’s actually a cinematographer and has worked on several comedies like I Love You, Man, Due Date and the Hangover trilogy. Did he learn nothing on the sets?

 Helms’ character Peter is a divorced proctologist whose own son hates him. It’s easy to understand why. He’s an uptight, humorless a-hole. Wilson plays the same kind of mellow, laid-back goofball he’s played in pretty much every movie he’s ever been in. In Father Figures, his character Kyle is a very rich man. He sold his image to a BBQ sauce company to put on their label; he receives royalties for every bottle sold. Both characters are very annoying. Helms, who’s particularly irritating, acts like he’s in a bad Noah Baumbach movie with his character’s depressed, miserable persona. Wilson may as well have phoned it in. Their chemistry feels forced. Father Figures is the biggest waste of a great supporting cast since Little Fockers. Harry Shearer (of This Is Spinal Tap) is in one or two scenes near the beginning as the mother’s new hubby. Glenn Close acquits herself with as much grace and dignity as she can. June Squibb (Nebraska) makes the most of her one scene as well. Rhames gets to use the term “dick whisperer”. Simmons gets hit by a car. Walken gets shot with a tranquilizer dart. This is the best use of two Oscar winners, two Oscar nominees and a Golden Globe winner? Really?

 Father Figures is badly written and poorly constructed. The romantic subplot between Peter and Sarah (Aselton, Legion), a woman he meets at a hotel bar, is clumsily shoehorned in. Even worse, he later finds out she might be family. Just as arbitrary is Kyle finding out he’s done as the company mascot and there’s no more money. This part of the story is handled badly. Almost half the movie consists of scenes of cars driving. The soundtrack choices are boring. None of the jokes hit the mark. Much of it, like the Boston clan with exaggerated accents, is old hat. And what happened to the scene featuring Wilson being chased by schoolgirls with field hockey sticks? It was in the trailer. I can't even figure out where it belongs in the movie. Father Figures is one big bastard of a movie and should be disowned.

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