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Classically awful humor

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For old people too scared of Wire Fu and mutants, Hollywood is offering up a toothless comedy called The In-Laws, which turns out to be even less funny than all of that heady gobbledygook Neo has to say and listen to in The Matrix Reloaded. It's safe counter-programming for those who still think Friends is at the top of its game, and that Will and Grace are just the zaniest pair going. In other words, The In-Laws is chock-full of extremely dated humor and derogatory gay jokes with punch lines so glaringly obvious, you can see them through walls.

            You might remember the original, 1979 version of The In-Laws, in which Arthur Hiller directed Peter Falk and Alan Arkin in a story about two very different fathers-in-law who meet right before the big wedding of their respective spawn. For its time, the comedy was firing on all of its cylinders, but to go back and watch it now is just plain depressing. Keen observers, though, will recognize that its plot was "borrowed" to make the highly successful Meet the Parents. Instead of focusing on the relationship between one secret agent father-in-law (Falk) and his nebbishy dentist counterpart (Arkin), Parents attained box office success by showing the secret agent dad getting to know the nebbishy nurse marrying his daughter.

            In this completely unnecessary new version, dentistry is replaced with the only girlier medical field out there --- podiatry. That's how Jerry Peyser (Albert Brooks) makes his living. This allows him to throw a huge wedding bash for his daughter, Melissa (Lindsay Sloane), even though she says she just wants a small, quiet ceremony (what girl actually means this, by the way?). Melissa is marrying a handsome, Andy Sipowicz-partner-type guy named Mark (Ryan Reynolds). Neither Jerry nor Melissa have met Mark's dad when the film opens, but that quickly changes when Steve Tobias (Michael Douglas), a CIA agent posing as a copier salesman, roars into town like an Oklahoma twister.

            Before you know it, Jerry is accidentally caught up in a world of international espionage that involves stolen arms, a Russian sub (mmmm... Russian sub) and, most importantly, Robin Tunney, who plays Steve's foxy partner. Basically, every gag in the film boils down to Douglas gnawing on the scenery over and over again, and Brooks screaming, "Oh my God --- he's still gnawing!" This isn't exactly cutting-edge stuff here, unless maybe you count the scene where you have to watch Brooks getting out of a hot tub wearing a thong (this is also in the trailer, of course), which must be some kind of cosmic payback for seeing Kathy Bates nude in About Schmidt.

            Brooks is a very funny guy, but this kind of material is way beneath him. Douglas may never have been more irritating, and you know that in real life he'd probably bust a hip just watching some of the stunts we're supposed to swallow him doing here. Candice Bergen once again proves she's cornered the market on wacky mothers-in-law, while both of the talented kids are largely wasted in poorly written parts. But not as wasted as Tunney, the only character in the film that is even remotely interesting.

            The In-Laws is a disappointing step for writer-director Andrew Fleming, who crafted the slyly comedic Dick and the Tunney-led, teen-witch drama The Craft, which has long been a guilty pleasure of mine (it has a great soundtrack). I think somebody must have had a gun to his head, forcing him to make the film more like My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The bad news is that The In-Laws is just about as funny as Greek Wedding, and that means there is no good news.

"Damn women are the ruination of men." So goes the Mexican folk song in Arturo Ripstein's The Ruination of Men, which screens Friday, May 23, at the Dryden Theatre. On the surface, this eponymous downfall is definitely women, or possibly the male lead's inability to play baseball worth a damn (this is, perhaps, why soccer is the most popular sport in the world). But looking deeper, it becomes clear that the real undoing of the hairier sex is men themselves. Like, duh.

            The best way for me to describe Men would be to tell you to imagine Luis Buñuel directing a Ron Shelton-penned script of Six Feet Under, but shooting it in black-and-white DV and editing it into three out-of-sequence acts. Go ahead --- imagine it. I dare you. Now add a midget, a radio that can pick up God's thoughts, a coveted pair of snakeskin boots, and the line, "You can tell she likes a pickle in her pouch," and Men starts to sound like something out of a Happy Gilmore dream sequence (save the lack of a lingerie-clad Julie Bowden brandishing pitchers of beer).

            Ripstein, who was once an assistant director to Buñuel, and his screenwriter wife, Paz Alicia Garciadiego, craft an absurd tragicomedy about a seemingly happy-go-lucky guy (Rafael Inclán), who gets ambushed and killed on his way home. The second part shows his wife (a hysterical Patricia Reyes Spíndola) and his mistress arguing over his body at the police station, but it isn't until the third act (which is really the first act) that we learn why the ambush ever took place. Men is packed full of long, meditative takes, courtesy of Ripstein's handheld camera, that may initially lull some to sleep, but everyone should snap to when the deceased's mourning lovers scuffle with each other right on top of the corpse.

Interested in raw, unsanitized movie ramblings from Jon? Visit his site, Planet Sick-Boy (www.sick-boy.com), or listen to him on WBER's Friday Morning Show.

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