Paul L Smith
Review by Bill Slocum
Screwball comedy is loaded with options,
Peter Falk and Alan Arkin are an absolutely killer combination in this over-the-top comedy. The writer who helped pen “Blazing Saddles,” Andrew Bergman, is back in a solo effort this time that downplays the profanity and adult situations of that earlier classic for a family-friendly outing that loses none of its bite or wit.
For me, this film carries the same buttoned-down lunacy of a great Bob and Ray routine, only sustained for 90 minutes, with hardly a sagging line or note. Get through the first five minutes, a fairly routine armored car robbery and a protracted stairwell run, and you will not be sorry, because the rest of “The In-Laws” is so funny, it will take you three or four eager viewings before you appreciate just how brilliant beyond belief it is. At least that’s what happened with me.
It’s a strangely genial film, its approach personified in Peter Falk’s “friend of the world” interpretation of Vince Ricardo. There’s nothing that phases him, or is too minute to warrant some breezily cheery comment, like “Is this coffee freeze-dried? It’s very good.” Or “The benefits [for belonging to the CIA] are terrific. The trick is not to get killed. That’s the whole key to the benefits package.”
Ricardo’s approach is exemplified in an apron he is seen wearing at a barbeque: “I’m loaded with options.” That he is, and screenwriter Bergman, too. In a somewhat desultory but still necessary DVD commentary for “In-Laws” fanatics like me, it is revealed by Bergman and director Arthur Hiller reveal the key moment for the screenplay is a fairly straight and jokeless scene between Alan Arkin’s Dr. Kornpett and his daughter, where she urges him not to reject Ricardo because of his subliminated sexual jealousy about losing his daughter to Ricardo’s son in marriage. Okay, maybe that does read funny, but it doesn’t come across as funny.
The way the scene works, once the hapless dentist hears this, he is screwed. He has to help out Ricardo, in an inane flight from the government into the arms of the only Latin American dictator who’s national flag features a topless woman, and whose apparent deputy is a Senor Wences hand puppet. You just follow along the same way Dr. Kornpett does, never knowing what to expect next, and, unlike him, enjoying it all the way through.
This film isn’t laughs for everyone. Senator Jesus Braunsweiger’s next-of-kin and BMW enthusiasts will find plenty to mourn. But for everyone else seeing it for the first time, it will be a joy forever, and a bit of a puzzlement: Why isn’t this comedy better-known? Why don’t people quote it as readily as “Caddyshack,” “The Blues Brothers” or other lesser, contemporary fare?
One last thing: Alan Arkin’s performance is maybe the best thing in the movie. I only realized this after repeat viewings. He’s not the funniest comic actor around, frankly I never found his stuff that good in the other films of his I’ve seen, but here he makes the thing work. I wanted to say something about this containing the best straight-man work since Bud Abbott, but the more I see it, the less I’m sure who’s the straight man. So many of the great lines are his: “There are flames on my car.” “Flies with beaks?” “A Zee? A Zee?” “What flow? There isn’t any flow.” And to think his first line in the movie is a complaint about the viscosity of his dental bibs.
Just shut me up and go see it already. Or see it again. There’s worse things you could do with your time, and not much better.