It's almost fitting to find Billy Crystal starring in this movie. One of the funniest comedians of his generation, it's been a long time since his film career peaked in 1991 with City Slickers. After he finished analysing This and That a decade later, he's largely stayed away from making movies and, as demonstrated by his most recent hosting gig of the Oscars last year, has struggled to stay relevant in comedy.
So here he is in Parental Guidance as Artie Decker, a fledgling, out-of-touch minor league baseball announcer who's fired from his job because when his boss asks him if he tweets, he can only think to plead, "I'll make any sound you want!"
In so many ways, he's a man faced with a brave new world he doesn't understand. But when he and bubbly wife Diane (Bette Midler) are asked to look after their three grandchildren for a few days, so daughter Alice (Marisa Tomei) can accompany her husband, Phil (Tom Everett Scott), to receive an award, they find themselves face-to-face with the full extent of the changing times.
The three kids have been raised in a home with modernity and technology mostly foreign to Artie and Diane, presenting different individual challenges. Harper (Bailee Madison), the eldest at 12, plays the violin with rigid discipline, while longing to instead hang out with cute boys. Turner (Joshua Rush) is a stutterer, forced to deal regularly with bullies at school on account of it. The youngest, Barker (Kyle Harrison Beitkopf), is a precocious bundle of energy with an imaginary kangaroo friend and a knack for ill-timed bodily functions.
The humour skews mostly towards the juvenile, a brand best exemplified by a running gag that sees Artie being referred to as Fartie. There are few surprises to be found in the trajectories of the plot and accompanying predictable lessons about family and acceptance. Yet with Crystal and Midler giving spirited performances, a persuasive sincerity proves rather disarming, and veteran bit player Gedde Watanabe steals a few scenes as a Pan-Asian restaurant owner with an alarming attachment to Barker's imaginary kangaroo.
The biggest curiosity is: who's the target audience for a film like this? Kids aren't likely to be overly receptive to Crystal's shtick and, conversely, his demographic isn't liable to embrace jokes about skateboarder Tony Hawk wiping out on urine. Inevitably, it seems everyone will be left with the same lukewarm feeling. (Paramount)