Mothers, don't let your novelist sons grow up to be screenwriters.
That's the dreary message in the dreary and misbegotten "Father Hood," with Patrick Swayze, which was written by no less an eminence than Scott Spencer. Yes. The same Scott Spencer who wrote "Endless Love," that lambent, achy-breaky blast of teen-age love, lust and madness. And now . . . this?
Yes . . . this.
Clearly, yesterday's best sellers don't pay today's bills.
The terrible problem with "Father Hood" is that no one involved seemed to have any idea of what kind of movie it should be, and one feels their conflicting visions at play throughout. Poor Spencer labors gamely to hold it together, but somehow one senses he had the least power of the major players.
Somebody wanted to do a film about a petty criminal (possibly co-producer Nicholas Pileggi, a former journalist who wrote the original "Wiseguy" and the screenplay to "GoodFellas") and somebody wanted to make a chase movie with boats and cars and helicopters and somebody wanted to make a road movie about a trip from L.A. to New Orleans and somebody wanted to make a movie of intrigue about an investigation into a corrupt juvenile detention center and someone wanted to make a movie that traced an arc of character growth, as a reprobate father learns the joys of parenting. So which one got their way? All of them.
Everyone wins except the audience and the investors, but who cares about them? Swayze plays Jack Charles, a seemingly harmless professional low-life whose lawyer is trying to plea-bargain him down to under five years for his latest bungled caper. Meanwhile, Jack's planning to split for New Orleans where he's got a sweetheart deal set up: He and another creep will knock off a drug-cartel money run and head out to Belize. But who should show up? His daughter.
It seems that Jack's motto hasn't been "Father knows best." He's abandoned his 15-year-old daughter Kelly (a pert Sabrina Lloyd) and 7-year-old son Eddie (Brian Bonsall) to the state, which has warehoused them in a grim reformatory where corporal punishment and sexual harassment are the norm. Jack's reaction? "Like, who cares?"
But Kelly won't go away, and soon enough Jack has pulled a gun, waylayed the reform school's bus, rescued/kidnapped Eddie, and set out with both kids for the Big Easy. But the movie is desperately difficult to watch, as Jack's cruel indifference to his children's safety is the major theme of its first hour. Jack pulls them through gunfights and car chases and escapes, puts them merrily and guiltlessly in harm's way, abuses them verbally and never gives it a second thought. And he's the hero? Where's that Highway Patrol SWAT sniper when you need him?
In fact, so appalling is the first hour of "Father Hood" that the filmmakers actually begin the film with the happy ending that is still 15 months in the coming, complete with the good news that everybody survives, as a way of defusing the angst, contempt and inevitable theater walk-out problem. In other words, they're desperately willing to sacrifice the key storytelling value -- suspense -- in order to keep you from hating the movie so much you abandon it at the 15-minute mark. What does that tell you?
Can I delicately suggest that maybe the South Africans aren't the right people to be telling this tale? Director Darrell James Roodt ("Sarafina!") and co-producers Anant Singh and Gillian Gorfil are all recent emigres from that sun-splashed, horror-filled abattoir, and possibly they don't quite have the right sensibilities to deal with such American demons as the movie unleashes. Perhaps these gents should stick to their own demons, of which, Lord knows, there are plenty.
The film becomes marginally more watchable as it progresses and Swayze's character begins to respond to his children. But it's still crummy. The murky "intrigue" plot is handled entirely on the phone (Halle Berry is a reporter trying to get the inside dope on the reformatory) which comes to a muzzy climax at some vaguely imagined hearing that has all the emotional impact of watching egg salad turn brown without refrigeration.
Any way you chop it, "Father Hood" is a grotesque miscalculation, made all the more deliciously rancid by the caliber of the people whose careers it will ruin.
Starring Patrick Swayze and Halle Berry
Directed by Darrell James Roodt
Released by Hollywood Pictures