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The In-Laws (May 21/03)

Albert Brooks rarely acts these days, so it's not unreasonable to expect a lot from him when he does. The In-Laws marks his first film role since 2001's My First Mister, a film in which he gave a surprisingly touching performance. Here he returns to the realm of comedy, and though the film doesn't really allow for him to be as funny as he has been in the past, the movie is engaging enough to warrant a mild recommendation.

Brooks stars as Jerry Peyser, a foot doctor in the midst of preparations for his only daughter's wedding. When the time finally comes to meet her fiancée's father, Peyser is a little suspicious of the man right off the bat. His suspicions are confirmed when he catches the man, Steve Tobias (Michael Douglas), engaging in some decidedly unfriendly business with a thug in a restaurant bathroom. Turns out Tobias is an agent for the CIA, and now that Peyser's gotten a glimpse of him in action, Tobias has no choice but to drag him along on his ongoing mission. Comedy ensues when Peyser is forced to become a drug kingpin known as the Fat Cobra in order to placate a flamboyant trafficker named Jean-Pierre Thibodoux (David Suchet).

In a lot of ways, The In-Laws is a close cinematic cousin to Meet the Parents - both in its themes and in its execution. The most distinct similarity is the clash between two very different families, with the CIA element present in both films. And like Meet the Parents, The In-Laws isn't exactly a laugh-out-loud riot; the term "slow build" is especially appropriate here. But the film always remains entertaining, mostly due to Brooks' performance - which is essentially one long reaction shot. Brooks' specialty has always been the long-suffering type, and he puts that skill to almost perfect use here. It becomes clear, right from the opening scenes, that Peyser is the ideal Albert Brooks character - he's a neurotic, rigid sort that enjoys predictability - and, as expected, most of the comedy emerges from situations Peyser is absolutely uncomfortable in (after Thibodoux remarks that there's nothing quite like holding the still-beating heart of an enemy, Peyser, as the Fat Cobra, nervously notes, "yeah, that's great, isn't it?")

But there's something missing from The In-Laws. There's a certain lack of energy that prevents the film from becoming more than just an enjoyable time-waster. Though the movie is peppered with expensive-looking stunts (including a parachute ride between Tobias and Peyser from the top of a very tall building), they're not terribly exciting. But they're worth sitting through if only because of Suchet's hilarious turn as an effeminate villain with a crush on Peyser (aka the Fat Cobra). The main storyline, involving the wedding of Tobias' son Mark (Ryan Reynolds) and Peyser's daughter Melissa (Lindsay Sloane), is substantially less interesting than all the fish-out-water stuff involving Brooks. Still, the affable nature of the various performers and a bizarre cameo by KC and the Sunshine Band ensures that the whole thing is entertaining throughout.

The In-Laws is certainly a must for fans of Brooks, as the chance to see him in an all-out comedy is becoming more and more rare nowadays. But those looking for hilarity along the lines of his own films like Lost in America and Defending Your Life will surely be disappointed.

out of

© David Nusair