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In 1979 Arthur Hiller directed a cute little movie called The In-Laws, starring the creative and comedic talents of Peter Falk and Alan Arkin. The film was generally well-received as a fun romp with a couple of great stars. Twenty-four years on, one wonders why they bothered to remake what was essentially the perfect kind of comedy for its time.

The 2003 version, starring Michael Douglas and Albert Brooks this time, was never meant to be a remake, according to director Andrew Fleming. Well, when you take the title, the plot and suck the fun out the lot of it, yep, you’ve got yourself a remake, Andy.

In-Laws, The
Movie
If you’ve seen the original then you’ve heard it all before. Melissa Peyser (Lindsay Sloane) and Mark Tobias (Ryan Reynolds) are getting hitched, but before they do the whole soon-to-be-family get-together must occur. Somehow the Peysers have never met Mark’s Dad, Steve (Douglas), so he takes them to a Chinese restaurant to get better acquainted. What the Peysers don’t know is that Steve is an undercover CIA agent who is using the restaurant as a meeting place to discuss his latest case with one of his colleagues (Robin Tunney, what were you thinking?). You’d think a CIA agent would have a bit more discretion, but somehow Steve and his contact discuss world-changing plans in the cubicle of a toilet. Not surprisingly, Melissa’s father, Jerry (Brooks) stumbles in on the conversation and is shocked at Steve’s double life.

What ensues could’ve been some relatively funny hyjinx at the hands of Steve and his CIA colleagues. That is if any of it was actually thought out properly. Steve spends the majority of the film being tailed by other agents but never pinned down, taking an unwilling Jerry along for the ride. And you actually have to try and buy the fact that Douglas is a CIA agent, not just an actor who got it on with Sharon Stone a few years back. Jerry’s a foot doctor carrying several neuroses that he’s meant to have overcome by the end of the film, but most of them are just trivial annoyances or don’t really get resolved at all over the course of the relatively short running time.

Douglas becomes even more grating as his career progresses and this one is no exception. His CIA agent is a stupid caricature of someone who has spent years in the job but appears to have gained no apparent street-smarts or general intelligence. Albert Brooks might have his supporters from previous films, but even his character becomes increasingly annoying, with the script making Brooks end up looking (and sounding) like a poor-man’s Billy Crystal. The comparisons weren’t meant to be drawn with films such as Meet The Parents, which would explain the complete shut-out of Reynolds and Sloane in their miniscule roles as bride and groom. Though you can see their intention of steering clear of the wedding couple as focus and concentrating more on the family element, surely the innocence of Sloane and the proven success of Reynolds would’ve commanded a lot more screen time.

In-Laws, The
The jokes just don’t come quick enough to call this one worth it for the odd chuckle, and even those that are set up correctly just aren’t worth it in the end. Candice Bergen makes an appearance as Steve’s nasty ex-wife, but her character is just a much poorer version of her turn in Miss Congeniality and Even David Suchet’s gay underworld figure who has the hots for Brooks’ Jerry comes of as more smutty and simple than anything humorous, largely due to a script that gives none of the actors much room to work, save perhaps for Brooks who tries in vain to carry the others comically throughout. Don’t got looking for anything special in this film because it’s just not there. Unless you’re a Douglas or Brooks fan then you’ll most likely get very little out of what is really a poor attempt at taking someone else’s idea and giving it a modern twist. And fans of the original may as well just watch the older version one more time because it is vastly superior in entertainment value alone.  The innocence of the late seventies was perfect for this kind of film; the scepticism and creativity of post-2000 Hollywood is most definitely not.

Video
In keeping with the trend of Roadshow providing stellar transfers for sub-par films, this 2.35:1 presentation comes up a treat. There is a little more grain in this film than in some of Roadshow’s other recent releases but for the CIA sequences this seems to fit in quite well. The colours are particularly impressive even though the general palette isn’t all that bright. Sharpness is maintained throughout, though a few choice scenes are a little softer due to a marked difference in the lighting. But overall this is quite a good, clean transfer that will have you focused firmly on the action, though why you’d put yourself through it is another question.

Audio
Included on the disc is a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and a vanilla 2.0 mix for those less well-equipped. The 5.1 track uses the surrounds quite well, from the opening car chase to the heat-seeking missile in the final act. The rears are used intelligently to add a lot more to the sound than just effects in the front speakers, while the dialogue is directed well (and clearly) around the front stage throughout. Ambient sounds are present when necessary so you’ll have a fair amount of sound emanating from behind your head for the duration of the film. Subwoofer usage is minimal but it did kick in on a couple of occasions.

The musical score by John Powell among others is a playful little mix of orchestral pieces and the “gong-gongs” of the human voice. It does give off a pretty impressive sound out of the speakers at times yet never seems to overpower the action on screen. Points must be deducted from the film’s review, at least, because the main theme from Good Will Hunting is used in the film’s penultimate scene. Shame on you, Andrew Fleming and co. You think we wouldn’t pick up on this? Nevertheless this is still a perfectly adequate sound mix overall.

In-Laws, The
Extras
The extras package contains a fair amount of bonus material to wade through, really padding out the disc to try and add some value. First up is a commentary track with director Andrew Fleming, who talks about a range of issues to do with the production, from which bits were shot on a sound stage to the choice of music for various sequences in the film. There are a few silences here and there but on the whole Fleming seems comfortable adding some insight into how the constructed the film. It’s nothing really all that interesting but fans of the film (all two of them) will probably get a kick out of it for a while.

The gag reel which is also included isn’t so much funny as it is a behind the scenes montage of general outtakes, stuff-ups and cuts. Possibly the funniest moment occurs when we witness an extra’s skirt lifted up during the “tidal wave” sequence. The rest of it is pretty stock-standard fare, none of it all that funny at all. It’s interesting to note that the working title seems to have been ’Til Death Do Us Part. Hmmm.

Moving on, the additional scenes section contains three extras scenes which must be played individually. The first is a phone call between Steve and his partner, Angela, which is very short and would’ve added nothing to the film whatsoever. The second involves Steve offering Jerry some muffins and adding a gag about Martha Stewart. Again, it’s quite short and pretty worthless overall. The third additional scene is more of an alternate take on one of the final moments between Steve and Angela. You can see why they went for the original scene because this one starts more story threads that just aren’t necessary. This last scene adds some value to the package overall.

The next extra is a series of multiple takes with Albert Brooks, showing us his different spins on a couple of scenes. While long, this is mildly interesting to see just how Brooks puts the different takes together.

The parachute sequence extra gives us a look at the scene with the actors in front of a green screen. It’s interesting to see how everything was put together and how much work was still to go in post-production to make it look realistic. There is also a short clip of them sailing down to land on location.

The only other extras left in the package are cast & crew biographies on all the main players and the theatrical trailer, rounding out what is a pretty good package overall without giving us anything stunning.

In-Laws, The
Overall
The common trend of remakes continues, and the studios still seem keen to put blind faith in the re-workings of old winners (or losers, as the case has been with several films of late). It by no means has paid off with The In-Laws, instead just enhancing the reputation of the original as a good piece of filmmaking rather than a sloppily thought-out comedy that never hits its straps. The video is quite good, the soundtrack fun and suitable for this kind of film and the extras package has a few valuable additions so the disc isn’t a waste of material. Pity about the film, though, as that’s still the main ingredient when it comes to a successful DVD.


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