Courtesy Photo
Directed by Ivan Reitman

Starring Robin Williams, Billy Cystal, Julia Louis-Dreyfus & Nastassja Kinski

Cameo: Mel Gibson

"Father's Day"

Opened: May 9, 1997 Rated: PG-13

The opening sequence of "Father's Day" is accompanied by an original song from Paul McCartney, which should tell you everything you need to know about the movie -- it's the film equivalent of yuppie-pop telephone hold music.

Light on laughs, substance and energy, it's surprising the kind of burden a generic director (Ivan Reitman) and a listless script can be on the comedic spirits of Robin Williams and Billy Crystal.

The two play an odd couple team of possible fathers hunting for a runaway teenager that may, or may not, be the fruit of their loins.

Crystal is a cynical Los Angeles lawyer who is on his third wife (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and hesitant about parenthood. He's met in court one day by a very ex-girlfriend (Nastassja Kinski) who tells him he has a 16-year-old son, who by the way is missing and would he please go look for him.

Williams is a suicidal San Francisco playwright and poet who gets the same pitch from Kinski, who also slept with him 17 years before.

They two dads meet up while following the boy's trail and discover they've been duped, but Kinski says she doesn't know who the father is and begs them to find the boy.

Wacky adventure ensues.

Well, allegedly wacky. Written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel -- responsible for such laughless fare as "Multiplicity," "Greedy," and "City Slickers 2" -- this potential Bob Hope-Bing Crosby-style teaming becomes an exercise in the predictable and recycled.

The tired jokes range from Williams pondering the odds of Lou Gehrig dying of Lou Gehrig's disease to a nose ring getting caught on Crystal's cuff link when the pair track the kid to a rock concert.

There's a messy sub-plot involving the boy running with the wrong crowd, falling in with drug dealers and falling for a teenage tramp who breaks his heart, providing the dads plenty of opportunity to hone their parenting skills while grasping for a cheap laugh.

Much of "Father's Day" is a road picture. Crystal and Williams drive from San Francisco to Sacramento to Reno and back in search of the missing kid. Kinski's husband, whose spat with the brat was the catalyst for his running away, accepts responsibility after his wife recruits her ex-lovers and jumps in his car to intercept the pair in the Bay Area.

Curiously, even though all characters are native Californians and all of them are invariably in a hurry, none of them take a freeway even once, apparently because the writers needed the standard flat tire and small town escapades to aid their sorry script.

The only surprise in the entire film is also the only laugh -- Mel Gibson has an uncredited cameo as a pierced-every-which-way punker and his deadpan delivery is funnier than both the leads.

The central problem here is that Williams and Crystal are hilarious off-the-cuff on Comic Relief specials but here they have a script. "Father's Day" provides a few painfully obvious gaps designed for these two to ad lib, but they're all within the confines of the story and subsequently feel contrived anyway.

If only Williams and Crystal didn't feel this obligation to message stories and would just get down and dirty like they do on Comic Relief, they might make a funny movie together. But when they opt for a homogenized remake (the French "Les Comperes" was the inspiration for "Father's Day"), they're taking work that any two yutzes from the stand-up circuit could do just as well.

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