Good news for Billy Crystal fans: The comic actor is back in a starring role on the big screen for the first time in a decade. Bad news for those same fans: Parental Guidance is a mostly embarrassing effort for Crystal and others who have done better work elsewhere.
This is the type of movie that in another 15 years or so might star Eddie Murphy, a shameless mix of obnoxious slapstick and relentless bodily-function humor that results in shots to the crotch for Crystal and blows to the brain for moviegoers.
The story finds Crystal in grandfather mode for the first time, as Artie, a fledgling minor-league baseball announcer in California who travels with his wife (Bette Midler) to visit their daughter (Marisa Tomei) in Atlanta.
Their task becomes to help care for three rambunctious grandchildren for a week, when Artie quickly realizes that technology and political correctness have changed the approach to parenting considerably since his time.
The film, directed by Andy Fickman (The Game Plan), tries to take a satirical approach to modern parenting — where caution sometimes overrules common sense – noting that sometimes old-school methods of discipline and responsibility are best.
In this case, that leads to a predictable story arc in which the grandparents and the youngsters start with plenty of tension before the generation gap gradually closes.
Each of the three kiddos has their dilemma that is neatly wrapped up in the final act – Harper (Bailee Madison) dealing with a violin audition for a prestigious music school, Turner (Joshua Rush) confronting issues with his stuttering and a bully at school, and Barker (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf) coming to terms with reality regarding his best friends, an imaginary kangaroo.
That might be tolerable if any of the children were remotely likeable or relatable. But the script loses any momentum it generated as the brats evolve from mischievous to manic.
Crystal is well within his comfort zone as he rambles on about old baseball games and acts befuddled when it comes to social media or the X-Games. Midler and Tomei are wasted in thankless roles.
By the end, after an hour of low-brow gags generally about the groin area, Parental Guidance has the audacity to indulge in crass sentimentality, proving it’s no better at navigating pathos than humor.
Rated PG, 104 minutes.