Billy Crystal and Bette Midler do all they can (which is a lot) to entertain us in "Parental Guidance," but the movie keeps getting in the way. It's a routinely made comedy dominated by its screenplay's observations on how insane the typical insecure, overbearing helicopter parent has become these days.
To the modest picture's benefit, Example A of this sort of parent is played by Marisa Tomei. She doesn't force a single moment, comic or dramatic, even the ones that come pre-forced by the script and by the director, Andy Fickman.
Crystal, who takes one in the 'nads from a Little League slugger's bat in the name of slapstick, plays a recently fired Fresno minor league baseball announcer, married to a former regional TV weather lady, portrayed by Midler. Their daughter (Tomei) has recently relocated to Atlanta with her husband (Tom Everett Scott) and their three preteens, variously tightly wound and in need of some good old-fashioned boundaries.
The kids are played by Bailee Madison, Joshua Rush and Kyle Harrison Breitkopf. The central joke lies in the grandparents' exasperation with all the touchy-feely nonsense getting in the way of the kids' growth and happiness.
The pathos: considerable. The sight gags, involving Crystal puking chili dog on a kid's face, or the grandson with an imaginary friend peeing and causing an X Games skateboarder to wipe out: artless. The results: tolerably amusing. The lesson: Take time to smell the roses and play Kick the Can in the rain.
The performers milk this one like lifelong dairy farmers. And the way Tomei manages to suggest a real person, with real and conflicted feelings about her parents as well as her own instincts as a mother, provides "Parental Guidance" with a streak of honesty it barely knows how to accommodate.