Ageing comedy king Billy Crystal makes a comeback of sorts with this broad, highly scripted and crowd- friendly generation gap comedy. Crystal, making his first live-action film since 2002's Analyze That, conceived Parental Guidance after he spent a hectic five days babysitting his grandkids.
His old-school approach to child rearing drew constant criticism. "Don't look at them this way," the actor recently recalled being told. "Feed them this. Don't feed them that. It's just different than it was 30 years ago."
To get the concept to the screen, Crystal hired his go-to writers, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, who were behind his 1990s comedies City Slickers, Father's Day and Forget Paris, along with the 1980s hits Parenthood, Splash and Spies Like Us.
They bring a very traditional, very scripted style of comedy where each scene builds to a patented Billy Crystal punchline, as if he's still hosting the Oscars.
On top of that, Crystal brought in a younger pair of writers to add the more modern style of gross-out comedy in the mode of Adam Sandler or Judd Apatow. The result is a very odd and jarring comedy about the generation gap, which, ironically, suffers from the generation gap itself when it comes to new and old comedy styles.
Artie (Crystal) and Diane (Bette Midler) are retired grandparents, all but estranged from their grandchildren. When their daughter, Alice (Marisa Tomei), goes on a business trip with her husband, (Tom Everett Scott), they take in their three children for the week.
At first, Artie and Diane try to respect their daughter's modern parenting methods, where ice-cream is really yoghurt and competitive sports are out. "No" is now "think of the consequences" and raised voices are now "red" voices and must be replaced with calm "blue" voices. She's a type-A helicopter mum.
Supernanny eat your heart out.
But it's another language to the grandparents, who think they've done a good job raising their own child. So when the going gets tough, they revert to their own old-school approach.
That sets up the kind of generation clash we haven't seen in some time, and should also unleash a volley of awkward and funny moments as discipline and restraint fly out the window in favour of whatever works.
Instead, Crystal and Co go for the broadest, most obvious laughs possible. It often involves cloying physical comedy, from kicks to the crotch to sugar highs to food fights. There's even the requisite toilet scene and surprise vomit that seems a staple of modern comedies, thanks to Sandler and Apatow's brand of shock-and -awe gross-out comedy.
Yet those lowbrow moments jar with Crystal's sugary wholesome scenes about life lessons and family bonding. His writers even allude to the long-term damage done to kids by cottonwool parenting. While Crystal's line delivery is as stiff as his over-Botoxed face, Midler - making a comeback of her own - is a breath of fresh air as the more relaxed grandma.
The children almost upstage them both as the kind of cloistered kids who finally break free of Mum's shackles and cut loose.
Parental Guidance is desperately trying to be a cute, family-friendly Meet the Parents-style comedy that appeals to young and old audiences. Instead, by going for the opposing demographics, it's too juvenile for mature audiences and too old-fashioned for younger audiences, and ends up appealing to neither.
For a film called Parental Guidance, it needs some of its own.