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parental-guidance632There’s a scene in “Parental Guidance” partially shot from the perspective of a toilet bowl. There’s an easy joke in there someone, but frankly, I think all the easy jokes in the world have been used up in the script of this new Billy Crystal, Bette Midler comedy. “It’s not one of my better moments,” says Crystal’s character, and rarely have truer words been spoken.

Crystal and Midler are Arte and Diane. He’s a recently fired baseball announcer, she’s a former weatherperson and they’re long distance grandparents to Harper (Bailee Madison), Barker (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf) and Turner (Joshua Rush). When their daughter and her husband (Marisa Tomei and Tom Everett Scott) have the chance to get away for five days they reluctantly ask Arte and Diane to babysit the kids.

“Parental Guidance” is the kind of movie the studios hope will attract the whole family from the grandparents on down to the young’uns. It has something for everyone in the clan… which means the edgiest things in the film are the curly waves in Midler’s luxurious hair.

This is as safe and dull as it gets. There’s nothing wrong with intergenerational family entertainment but during this time of year when many people use the movies as a diversion from stress filled get-togethers, a film as predictable as Aunt Edith’s dry Christmas turkey and as cliché as Uncle Billy’s comb-over it hardly feels like a relaxing distraction. More like punishment.

Crystal and Midler are trying hard—it’s like watching old vaudevillians. Slap stick isn’t working? Well, here’s a song! Don’t like that? Let’s mug for the camera! Trouble is, this movie’s idea of high comedy is to play off of Arte’s old guy lack of technical know how. Jokes about being poked on facebook and tweeting–“I’ll make any sound you want!”–are the new knock knock jokes. They’re lazy and worse, not funny.

“Parental Guidance” is heartwarming treacle. A sitcom level film which, in the vocabulary of the new age parents made me want to put on my “exit shoes” and walk away.

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