1½ stars (out of four)
Paul Reiser's "The Thing About My Folks" banks so heavily on audience goodwill toward Reiser, the producer/screenwriter/co-star and "Mad About You" alum, and his top-billed co-star, Peter Falk, it practically goes into receivership by reel two. Heaven knows these two are likable and talented. But spending time with them as they charm their way through a hopelessly schematic father/son tale puts you in mind of a somewhat warmer place.
Sam Kleinman (Falk), a self-made businessman who made a good living in carpet, shows up unannounced one evening at the home of his prosperous writer son, Ben (Reiser). Sam's wife, Muriel (Olympia Dukakis), has stuck a farewell note to the fridge, citing Sam's aloofness and workaholic tendencies. Sam is lost, confused. Hoping to locate some deeply buried answers regarding what corroded his folks' marriage, Ben embarks on a road trip with Sam, initially to check out some farmland Ben wants to buy.
They fight; they kvetch; they get into a fender-bender; they buy a nifty '36 Ford. To the tune of Benny Goodman's "If I Had You," they pick apples and eat ice cream. They pick up women (sort of, and chastely) with whom they line-dance. They hustle some small-town pool sharks and triumph in a bar fight. Back home Ben's surreally supportive wife, played by the wonderful and woefully underutilized Elizabeth Perkins, puzzles out the whys and wherefores of Ben's apparently shot marriage.
By the time Reiser begins bonking us on the head with the big emotional declaratives"You never cared!" "I don't know what she wants!""The Thing About My Folks" has ventured deep into the land of "Dad," the Jack Lemmon soaper you may or may not remember. Director Raymond De Felitta and Reiser mean nothing but well with this project, but too many lines sound fraudulent, and Reiser, it must be said, is a hopeless ham in the reaction shot department. (Each close-up states the same thing: Can you believe my dad just said that?)
Falk, a wily veteran of many genres, aspires to a higher plane of mugging, attainable only to those who have at various points in their careers worked with both Neil Simon and Wim Wenders. I've always enjoyed Falk. Who hasn't? This movie won't dent anyone's career. It's too "eh" for that.
'The Thing About My Folks'
Directed by Raymond De Felitta; screenplay by Paul Reiser; cinematography by Dan Gillham; production design by Timothy Whidbee; music by Steven Argila; edited by Sheila Amos and David Leonard; produced by Robert F. Newmyer, Reiser and Jeffrey Silver. A Picturehouse release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:36. MPAA rating: PG-13 (language, including some suggestive references)
Sam - Peter Falk
Ben - Paul Reiser
Muriel - Olympia Dukakis
Rachel - Elizabeth Perkins