Billy Crystal’s Oscar schtick ceased being funny years ago, but if the actor’s lack of a regular paycheck from the Academy was what compelled him to spearhead “Parental Guidance”—his first starring role in a decade—then I suggest that we anoint him the ceremony’s permanent host. Enduring Crystal’s hum-drum video-package and monologue is nothing compared to this, the film that places the comedian famous for his roles in “When Harry Met Sally…” and “Analyze This” in a geriatric knock-off of Vin Diesel’s “The Pacifier.”
And that’s really the problem: for Diesel, collecting a paycheck on a mediocre family comedy is no big deal, but “Parental Guidance” makes the once-beloved Crystal look like Hollywood’s equivalent of the arthritic 80-year-old who’s sadly still bagging your groceries when he should be enjoying retirement on a Florida beach. There’s nothing uniquely awful about the film—except for perhaps a rectum-directed serenade entitled “Come out, come out, Mr. Doody,” for which Crystal wrote the lyrics himself—but it sure is depressing to watch a legend wasting away in such trash.
Crystal’s Artie and Bette Midler’s Diane are grandparents who have been summoned to babysit while Mom (Marisa Tomei) and Dad (Tom Everett Scott) leave on a business trip. Having not seen the kids in years, old-school Artie is horrified to learn that they are the products of yuppie helicopter-parenting: 12-year-old Harper (Bailee Madison) is already making plans for college, eight-year-old Turner (Joshua Rush) plays in a baseball league where they don’t keep score, and five-year-old Barker (Kyle Harrison Breitkoph) is permitted to entertain his imaginary kangaroo friend 24-7.
The kids’ distinctly modern, oversensitive upbringing has a certain truth to it, allowing for a few mildly amusing jokes early on, such as a gluten-free restaurant proprietor setting a place for Barker’s imaginary friend, clearly at the parents’ directive. But the underlying premise is hardly original—how many right-wing talk radio hosts have mocked participation trophies and other liberal parenting trends over the years?—so this humor wears thin mighty quickly. Which is problematic, because it’s the only idea-based humor the movie has.
The remainder of the “comedy” is made up of horrendous, humiliation-based physical gags. Artie gets smacked in the balls with a baseball bat. Artie gets kicked in the shin. Artie has to sing the aforementioned “Mr. Doody” song to coax Barker to defecate in a public restroom. Artie vomits on a child. Skateboarder Tony Hawk even gets in on the bodily fluid-driven fun, in an embarrassing cameo, wiping out when Barker manages to urinate on the half-pipe during a competition.
Of course, this all culminates in a schmaltzy third act of epiphanies through which the kids and their parents learn to appreciate old-fashioned Grandpa Artie and Grandma Diane and visa-versa. The score swells and tears flow. The audience may expel some of the aforementioned bodily fluids, if they haven’t already. Director Andy Fickman previously helmed the atrocities “She’s the Man,” “The Game Plan,” and “You Again”; with “Parental Guidance,” I think we can finally deem him the worst director in Hollywood, or at least the one with the worst taste in scripts. Poor Billy Crystal.