PARENTAL GUIDANCE is a sloppy concretion inadvertently showcasing pretty much everything that can be done wrong in filmmaking short of forgetting to remove the lens cap. Though in this case, that last might actually have been an improvement. The story is incoherent, the characters are as thin as the wispiest of vapors, and the jokes, such as they are, are hoary chestnuts, each and every one of which fall flat with a firm and resounding thud that has the ringing finality to be found as the gates of Hell slam shut behind a damned soul.
And audience members might come to know that feeling as the film drones on.
The premise is an old idea given no life by a waste of a talented cast. Billy Crystal and Bette Midler are Artie and Diane, called upon by their daughter, Alice (Marissa Tomei), to babysit their three grandchildren. Alice has no faith in them, but push has come to shove and so her easygoing parents are suddenly thrust into the new world of parenting, where no is a no-no, and boundaries are considered stifling. Plus Alices house, thanks to her tech-whiz of a husband (Tom Everett Scott), is run by computer, which, of course, means that Artie and Diane will run afoul of it.
Crystal mugs, Midler goggles her eyes, and Tomei really has nothing to do but knit her brow and look concerned. The script offers them nothing funny to do, and try as they might, nothing is all they can come up with. The clash of parenting styles as a trope has nowhere to go, what with Alices parents being so very nice and her having turned out so well. It all devolves very quickly, with the grandparents seeming to have never been in a situation where they have taken care of a child, or cooked a meal in even the most conventional of kitchens. Just when it seems things cant get more irksome, the film surprises with an interlude in a mens room that is both unfunny and disturbing.
While others might have gone out of their way to make the kids in the film adorable, these filmmakers have made the bold decision to, as they say, go another way. Two of the moppets are non-entities, while the youngest is like nothing so much as the distinctly off-putting spawn of Satan. They and the adults drift through a series of predictable situations that are badly directed and that never quite coalesce into something resembling a plot. There is a strict schedule to follow, so when it its time for someone to have a tantrum, get lost, tell someone off, or throw up, they do so, and how they got to that point is not an issue. Except for the throwing up, which is the result of an eight-year-old committing felony assault thats supposed to be, but isnt cute, but at least has the virtue of presenting a plausible quid pro quo. Then, at the end, in a desperate bid for redemption that fails with all the brio that everything before it has, it dissolves into the schlockiest kind of sentimentality.
PARENTAL GUIDANCE is a brutal frittering away of time and effort for everyone involved on both sides of the camera and in the cinema. As a Christmas Day release, think coal, not candy.