For those of you out there too young to remember, there was once a time when everything Billy Crystal touched was comedy gold. His movies were sure-fire hits at the box office and his annual hosting of the Oscars was so hilarious that viewers actually preferred that the show run over. But as his 2012 hosting of the Oscars proved, sometimes you just can't go home again. 'Parental Guidance' is Crystal's first starring role in a live-action movie in about a decade, and he actually almost pulls it off; but the film goes off the rails in the second half and viewers are left with a very average and by-the-numbers comedy.
The movie takes advantage of Crystal's love of baseball (Crystal was also one of the film's producers) by giving his character, Artie Decker, a job as the announcer for a minor league team, but at the end of the season, Artie is fired from his job when the team's owner claims they're looking for someone more in touch with today's high-tech world. By contrast, Artie's daughter Alice (Marissa Tomei) and son-in-law Phil (Tom Everett Scott) are all about high-tech, as Phil has just won an award for his "R-Life" computer system, which runs all of the electronics in one's home. Alice and Phil need to fly to an event to accept the award, so they ask Artie and his wife Diane (Bette Midler) to come watch their three children while they're gone. The kids' understanding of computers and gadgets and Artie's lack of knowledge of them could have made for an entertaining story, but aside from a few scenes here and there, the movie abandons that idea and instead focuses on unfunny slapstick moments and, even worse, a lot of bathroom humor.
Crystal isn't much of a physical comedian, so when the script calls for him to be hit in the crotch or have his face covered with glow-in-the-dark paint, the scenes really fall flat. The movie really does work, however, when it has Crystal making sarcastic or snide remarks about his grandkids or his lack of understanding about the way his daughter is raising them. There are some funny scenes, like one where he solves a problem by bribing one of the kids with money, as well as some touching ones where he shows one of the other children how he decided to become a broadcaster by playing him the audio of the 1951 New York Giants winning the pennant (where the viewer can tell Crystal's love of the game isn't just acting).
While 'Parental Guidance' does have its moments, there's just so much of it that seems like standard sitcom fare. All of the grandchildren in this movie have an issue than needs overcome and, naturally, by the end of the film Artie has helped in some way to resolve each one of them. Additionally, while Crystal has a handful of good scenes, both Bette Midler and Marissa Tomei's talents seem wasted here, with both of them serving as little more than plot devices to point out Artie's various mistakes and moments of inappropriateness.
Although the film doesn't quite work, its lack of mean spiritedness and overall attempts at being a wholesome family film (one of the few comedies in recent memory that parents can feel comfortable watching with their kids without worrying about foul language or sexual situations) does make it one that's hard to hate. It reminded me a little bit of the 'Cheaper By The Dozen' movies. So, if you were a fan of those films, chances are you'll get enough enjoyment out of 'Parental Guidance' to at least make it worth a rental.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Parental Guidance' is available on Blu-ray in a combo pack that also includes a bare-bones DVD (aside from the trailers for other films that appear on both discs) and a insert featuring codes for both a digital copy and an UltraViolet version of the movie. The Blu-ray is housed in one of those eco-friendly cases, with a slip cover included. A separate DVD release is also available that includes the commentary track and deleted scenes detailed below. Both the Blu-ray and the DVD are front-loaded with trailers for 'Epic,' 'Life of Pi,' 'Chasing Mavericks,' and a general trailer for FOX Blu-ray releases. There is also a trailer for 'Won't Back Down' within the bonus materials on each disc (where the front-loaded trailers can also be accessed again).
For the most part, this is a good looking presentation. Colors and skin tones seemed just slightly oversaturated in most scenes, but not distractingly so, and black levels are strong throughout the movie. There a few scenes (primarily the ones shot indoors) that appear softer than others in which details are not as distinguished, but overall the picture is sharp throughout. The outdoor shots are the ones that really look great here, particularly the ones that show off the area around Atlanta where the majority of the movie was shot. There are no glaring glitches or problems with the picture, such as overuse of DNR or edge enhancement. The movie is presented on Blu-ray in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1.
'Parental Guidance' has a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that isn't always as active as you might expect, but is free from any glitches or other distractions. The dialogue is crisp and clear and primarily comes from the front speakers. Directionality is good, although the rear speakers don't get much of a workout, aside from the occasional swooning of the theatrical score. The audio levels are properly balanced between the dialogue and the soundtrack and sound effects, so this isn't one of those titles where the dialogue is low and everything else is overbearing. This isn't the kind of movie that will really show off your speaker system, but for the content presented, it's a well-done mix.
In addition to the DTS-HD track, a English Descriptive 5.1 track is also available, as well as both Spanish and French Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. For the hearing impaired, English SDH and Spanish subtitles are included.
Not as bad as I feared it might be, but still not good enough to recommend for purchasing, I'm placing 'Parental Guidance' in the rental column. It pales in comparison to most of Billy Crystal's previous work, but he does show glimmers here of what made him such a huge success in the late 80s and early 90s.