I’m relatively tolerant when it comes to comedy. Really, the only thing a comedy can do to offend me is fail to be funny — and on that count, Father Figures has offended me deeply. This unrelenting cavalcade of C-list cameos propping up flaccid performances from B-list stars meanders aimlessly through a morass of damaged masculinity and faulty story logic until it hits a brick wall of diminishing returns with an ending so insipid that it almost makes the hundred or so intolerable minutes that preceded it look bearable in comparison. And there’s Glenn Close, for some reason.
While I wholeheartedly endorse the rationale behind Christmas counterprogramming of this ilk, Father Figures is no Bad Santa. It’s not even on par with The Night Before, though it certainly shares that film’s self-satisfied sense of celebrity sentimentality. What Father Figures lacks in star power, it also lacks in jokes. The laugh-per-minute rate sets a new low end of that spectrum, as though someone took a two-minute Marx Brothers routine and slowed it down enough to fill out a two-hour movie. Not even a last-minute Hail Mary from Christopher Walken can redeem this tripe.
Ed Helms and Owen Wilson playing brothers I can accept — but Ed Helms and Owen Wilson playing twin brothers who don’t even look like they were born in the same year is a stretch. You want to cast Glenn Close as a septuagenarian sexpot who partied a little too hard at Studio 54? Fine, I’m on board. But why would you then give her precisely nothing to do? Father Figures is a film that plays to its weaknesses in defiance of its strengths, every “joke” landing with a dull thud where there should have been at least a stifled chuckle.
If Father Figures can’t coast by on its central performances, it’s supporting guest stars fare little better. Terry Bradshaw, Ving Rhames, Katt Williams, Harry Shearer — all of them seem slightly bored and distracted, as though they’re just biding their time until their respective accountants call to let them know the check cleared. At least J.K. Simmons seems to realize he’s in a terrible movie and acts accordingly, but a solid five minutes from Simmons doesn’t go far enough to justify this film’s existence. Throw in some empty platitudes about brotherly love and going with the flow, or some such nonsense, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a long winter’s nap.
Screenwriting classes will teach you that there’s a story beat, approximately half-way through the second act, called the “all is lost” moment. This is the point of no return, the juncture at which your protagonist is most tempted to abandon the quest only to realize that the road home is longer than the path to resolution. I reached a different point of no return midway through Father Figures — the point at which I realized that this movie was never going to be funny. This moment of recognition was followed by a horrifying acknowledgment that I had another 60 minutes of dreck to slog through. Thanks for nothing, Universe. Rated R for language and sexual references throughout.
Now Playing at AMC Classic River Hills 10, Carolina Cinemark, Regal Biltmore Grande, Epic of Hendersonville.