The In-Laws

(Andrew Fleming, USA, 2003)


Increasingly, I believe that many people go to movies to hear a bunch of songs pumped through a good sound system in a vast, dark room. With the added ingredients of bright colours, good-looking actors, and something vaguely resembling a plot, listening to music in this way is much more enjoyable than shelling out for the soundtrack CD and hearing it back home.

For much of its running time, The In-Laws intrigued me mainly on the level of its song selections – just as the dud Darkness Falls (2003) will be remembered only for its surreal pastiche of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire". It sounds like a radio tuned to a nostalgia station: Paul McCartney, The Bee Gees, Electric Light Orchestra – culminating in a rousing, live appearance by KC and the Sunshine Band.

The character of these songs has nothing to do with the story or its setting – except for the fact that this is a remake of Arthur Hiller's 1979 movie of the same name. The basic plot is retained – mild-mannered Jerry (Albert Brooks) finds himself reluctantly swept up in the deep covert CIA operations of Steve (Michael Douglas) on the eve of the marriage of their respective children – and a few minor twists added.

As Steve's throwaway chant of "Judy, Judy, Judy" to his seething ex-wife, Judy (Candice Bergen), indicates, this remake tips its hat to Cary Grant, and especially Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959). Director Andrew Fleming (Threesome, 1994) tries for a similar mixture of suave sophistication, burlesque pratfalls, verbal humour and mild action-adventure thrills – adding just a little trash comedy homophobia to suit contemporary, multiplex taste.

In a low level way, it's sort of enjoyable. Brooks is always a joy to watch, even when he is merely doing his worried-guy shtick (also exploited, to better effect, in Finding Nemo [2003]). And Douglas is well cast as a smiling, gregarious glad-hander with a hidden agenda always up his sleeve.

© Adrian Martin August 2003

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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