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A&E Columns Movie Reviews

Father Figures

dir. Lawrence Sher
reviewed by Dakota Drobnicki

Long story short: this movie is terrible, don’t go see it.

For those of you who decided to continue reading, let’s get the plot summary out of the way first.

Comedy superstars Ed Helms and Owen Wilson are twin brothers that don’t know who their dad is. Ed Helms has become a proctologist who hates his job and his phone-addicted lifeless husk of a son, while Owen Wilson is currently riding high on royalties from a bottle of barbecue sauce he appears on the label of. When their mom (Glenn Close) confirms that the story she’s told them for years about their dad isn’t true, they embark on an expensive and coast-wide quest to find him.

Among the potential candidates they hit up: ex-quarterback Terry Bradshaw (as himself), J.K. Simmons as a car thief who lives with his mother, and Christopher Walken as the local veterinarian. At one point in the movie, they pick up a surprisingly subdued Katt Williams as a hitchhiker they tie up. What wacky hijinx will ensue?

In this installment of “This Ain’t Star Wars!”, I’ll be looking at a movie that Warner Bros. decided was too bad to release back in January, one of Hollywood’s dumping ground months for projects they’ve lost faith in. This was supposed to come out at the end of January under the title Bastards, certainly an easy title to convince advertisers and theaters to display all over the place.

Although I haven’t read the original screenplay, I would like to think it was a dramedy that drew all of its humor from the camraderie and conflict of the twin brothers. I mean, think of the hundreds upon hundreds of screenplays that get thrown in the trash by script readers, not to mention those that sit around in the Hollywood Black List for years. Someone had to have pulled this out and found some earnest quality strong enough to get it made in a time when comedies are running on fumes.

Along the way, somebody decided to cast Ed Helms and Owen Wilson as the leads. While both of them do have more serious fare under their belts (Owen Wilson was just in Wonder, for example), they’ll still pop into raunchy R-rated comedies now and then— Wedding Crashers, Hall Pass, Masterminds, the Hangover trilogy, We’re The Millers, and that dreadful Vacation reboot from 2015 all come to mind.

Keep in mind that I’m still speculating here, but I would think at this point that the producers decided to add a bunch of raunchy sex jokes to this otherwise subdued dramedy in order to take full advantage of their star power, because that’s exactly what the movie feels like. So much of this movie plays out as a pretty serious attempt for Ed Helms to rekindle his shaky bond with his brother while finding the confidence to live an exciting life once again. I’m not gonna say that it’s a great movie when it does this, but it seems to know the direction it wants to go in. It feels like there’s a real script here, which is more than I can say for most other star-studded comedies that hit the multiplexes these days.

Then the “funny stuff” has to come in, as if by obligation, to distract the audience from the actual story going on, which undercuts the movie every chance it gets. The movie literally begins with Ed Helms finding car keys in his patient’s rectum, there’s an unpleasant scene where Owen Wilson and a deaf child are peeing on each other for no reason, there’s a minute in the movie where Ed Helms thinks he had sex with his sister the night before, and a serious scene between the twins and Christopher Walken pauses to draw attention to a dead cat’s giant testicles. These aren’t the only examples, but they are some of the most egregious ones.

To make it even worse, this stream of terrible raunchy humor is getting in the way of some pretty good acting. We’re talking about a movie here where Glenn Close, J.K. Simmons and Christopher Walken are part of the supporting cast, and when the movie does take serious turns, the actors are handling the weight pretty well. Sometimes the music can be a bit overzealous in punctuating its dramatic moments, but that’s to be expected.

The stench of the unfunny raunch outweighs the movie’s positive qualities. The more subdued humor isn’t ever really funny either, but at least it fits the narrative a little better. I would’ve rather had this movie repeat its recurring gag of Ed Helms mouthing the Law & Order: SVU opening twenty more times than keep either of the bits where Terry Bradshaw and Ving Rhames tell the brothers how good their mom was at sex.

It got to a point where the disjointed tone made the movie unpleasant and uncomfortable to watch. If the movie had gone full-blown Wedding Crashers and indulged in its crass, broad humor, these sex jokes probably still wouldn’t have been funny, but they would’ve at least fit into it better. Set against jokes with actual setup and payoff, they might’ve even garnered an extra laugh or two.

Imagine if you were watching The Fault in Our Stars, but every now and then Hazel Grace and Augustus would go shove their hands up a cow’s anus and throw its fecal matter at each other like snowballs for no reason. Take the scene where Isaac is adjusting to being fully blind, but have him grab a nearby girl’s breasts for the sake of a raunchy sex joke. Take the whole scene at the Anne Frank house and have Augustus poop in her toilet while also vomiting on the floor in front of him. Now throw in a random cameo from Andy Dick as his oral sex coach from Old School. Is he there for any real reason? No, but the dummies in the audience will surely have a good laugh about it. Would you still enjoy it with these random elements added, if nothing else was changed? Probably not. That would be an equivalent scenario to watching Father Figures as is.

Out of the entire Christmas Day lineup, I have no doubt in my mind that this will be the worst film you could possibly go see at the theater right now. I’ve yet to see Downsizing, Ferdinand or All The Money In The World as of this writing, but they would have to stoop to some pretty hardcore depths to get anywhere close to this atrocious experience. For those critics who jumped the gun on a “worst of 2017” list already, here’s a contender you likely hadn’t gotten to see yet. Next time, wait until 2018 to write it!