Parental Guidance 

Meet the grandparents — Crystal and Midler pull out the stops, but the material is downright lackluster

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Parental Guidance | D

Billy Crystal was born old, or at least as a young comedian he was possessed by the soul of a vaudevillian hell-bent on forcing a smile no matter how cornball the pun or mildewed the gag. Bette Midler meanwhile, got her start slugging it out in drag shows and bathhouses, and is similarly committed to the old showbiz razzle-dazzle by any means, unafraid to show off some flop sweat in exchange for applause. And so it is unsurprising, but a wee bit sad to see two veteran entertainers getting down in the literal and metaphorical muck in a bottom-feeding comedy, willing to endure any indignity just to stay in the game. These talented old pros find themselves stuck in a movie that has no reason to exist other than some studio suit must have totaled up the box office receipts from the Meet the Parents franchise, and promptly greenlit a knock-off.

Crystal stars as Artie Decker, a zany minor league Baseball radio announcer, who gets put out to pasture, and when his young punk boss ridicules his lack of a social media presence, Artie responds: "Tweet? I'll tweet, I'll chirp, I'll make any animal sound you want." Oof. With nothing better to do, Artie and his long-suffering wife Diane (Middler) jump at the chance to head across country to babysit their grandchildren for a week, mostly because their daughter Alice (Marissa Tomei) keeps the mortifyingly sappy duo at a comfortable distance, and this is a chance for them to worm their way back in. Alice and her mushy husband (Tom Everrett Scott) are absurdly progressive helicopter parents that like to use their "cool blue voices" to impart gooey new age phrases like "a teaching moment" and "use your words." The trio of unmanageable brats are an adorable little collection of personality tics, including stuttering, imaginary friends and hyper-overachieving prissiness. They are also annoyingly named: Harper, Turner and Barker, which sounds more like a Midwestern law firm than a family.

In addition to mocking wussy modern parenting techniques, the script hits a number of baby boomer hot points, like techno phobia, a nostalgia for racism, a fascination with doo-wop, and the golden age of baseball, including reliving Bobby Thompson's 1951 "Shot heard round the world" pennant winning home run for the umpteen millionth time.

A hack from way back, Crystal puts on his game face, and tries to muscle his way past the lousy material, but there's only so much even a natural funnyman can do in a situation like this.

Most of the time the leads just sort of wink, smirk and shrug straight into the camera, all but begging for forgiveness. Of course, there can be no apology for the scene where skateboard icon Tony Hawk slips in the fresh tinkle of a toddler while in the midst of a stunt. That's not even the most appalling bodily fluid incident in this mess; there is the heartwarming moment when Crystal projectile vomits a chili dog into a kid's face, and a deeply mortifying scene in a busy public men's room, where Billy sings a soothing lullaby to a turd.

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