Alibi V.19 No.24 • June 17-23, 2010 

Film News

Bad Dads

When Father’s Day movies go wrong

Dads don’t always have it so easy. Sure, they get one special Sunday out of the year to lie around in their Barcaloungers, be showered in singing Hallmark cards and maybe take a trip to K-Bob’s Steakhouse for the World Famous All-You-Can-Eat Salad Wagon. The rest of the year, they’re obliged to earn a living, fix stuff, raise kids and referee crappy Pee Wee Football games.
Wouldn’t it be nice if dads could just spend Father’s Day watching other dads perform their duties? In theory, yes. In practice, no. Hollywood seems to treat dads as bumbling comedy fodder, half-macho tear-jerking catalysts or serial killers. Here’s just a sampling of Hollywood’s worst fathers.

Dad (1989)Ted Danson was at his post-“Cheers” worst in this drowning-in-schmaltz comedy-drama from writer-director Gary David Goldberg (who inflicted “Family Ties” on us). Danson plays John, a stereotypically overworked business executive forced to care for his dottering father (Jack Lemmon) after mom (Olympia Dukakis) suffers a debilitating heart attack. Before you can sing “Cat’s in the Cradle,” John realizes all the things he’s missing in his life and tries to reconnect with his own estranged college-age son (a young Ethan Hawke). The film was nominated for an Oscar (Best Makeup), but it descends into sitcom-style shenanigans awfully quickly.

Daddy (1991)—This made-for-TV movie is based on a novel by Danielle Steel. For a Danielle Steel story, it’s got very little sex. Instead, we get Patrick Duffy as a dedicated father struggling to raise his kids (including a teenage Ben Affleck) after his wife (a pre-“Star Trek: Voyager” Kate Mulgrew) up and leaves him. Complications go from melodramatic to positively soap-operatic. Ben gets his girlfriend pregnant and is forced to drop out of high school to get a job! Patrick falls in love with Wonder Woman herself, Lynda Carter! In the end, we learn that ... well, it wasn’t your fault mommy and daddy got a divorce.

Fathers’ Day (1997) Just about every one of French satirist Francis Veber’s films has been remade (poorly, it should be noted) here in America. (See for reference: The Man With One Red Shoe, The Toy, The Birdcage, Buddy Buddy, Partners, Three Fugitives, Pure Luck, My Father the Hero and the upcoming Dinner for Schmucks.) Even director Ivan Reitman (Meatballs, Stripes, Ghostbusters) couldn’t get it right. Robin Williams and Billy Crystal, still trying to milk a little sympathy from their stint with Comic Relief, play a goofball writer and a smart alec lawyer who have each been told by the same ex-girlfriend (Nastassja Kinski) they are the father of a runaway teen son. After re-enacting the setup to “My Two Dads,” these two mismatched paternal figures hunt down the missing kid—who, as it turns out, is touring with the band Sugar Ray. In the end, the dads give sonny a big lecture about how everyone settles down after their wild teenage years. Sugar Ray? Honestly?

Getting Even With Dad (1994) Does Ted Danson hate his father? How else to explain this second dad-based clunker? Here, he plays a smalltime criminal whose big coin heist is interrupted by the arrival of his long-lost offspring (Macaulay Culkin, I’m sorry to report). Angry at his larcenous parent, junior steals the loot and refuses to give it back until dad takes him to amusement parks, zoos and other loving family locations. I think you can see the moral of this particular heartwarmer coming up Fifth Avenue. Macaulay’s (thankfully short-lived) shoulder-length haircut doesn’t help matters.

Ghost Dad (1990)—Bill Cosby followed the legendarily abysmal Leonard Part 6 with this lame-brained film about a bankrupt widower with three kids who dies in a car wreck. Did I mention it’s a comedy? Dad spends the movie doing silly Invisible Man schtick and trying to get some insurance money for his kids. In the end, I think he comes back to life. I’m certainly not watching it again to find out.

Like Father Like Son (1987) The Great Body Switch Comedy Trend of the late-’80s reached its nadir with this Dudley Moore / Kirk Cameron vehicle. A magical “mind transference” potion has uptight dad and laid-back kid switching personalities. I mean, can you imagine the hilarity of Dudley Moore riding a skateboard and chewing bubble gum? You can? ... Then you know to avoid this movie.

The Stepfather (1987) Forget the 2009 remake. The 1987 original was a terrific B-grade thriller with a smashing performance by Terry O'Quinn (John Locke from “Lost”). O’Quinn plays Jerry Blake, a conservative, family values kinda guy who marries single mothers and then inevitably bumps them off when they don’t match up to his perfect dream of Stepford Wife domestic bliss. Here, his serial killing schemes come to an end thanks to a rebellious teenage stepdaughter. The script by crime novelist Donald E. Westlake offers a witty criticism of the dark underbelly of the Reagan years and O’Quinn really bites into his role as your evil new dad.

World’s Greatest Dad (2009)—Robin Williams almost (almost) makes up for his previous paternal-based sins with this edgy film. Written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, the pitch-black (and then some) comedy casts Williams as the humble, failed author father to Daryl Sabara (Spy Kids)—the worst, most ungrateful teenager in creation. Things take a turn for the odd when dad takes credit for something he didn’t do. (I won’t spoil it here.) Dad’s sudden fame, however, comes with a mountain of guilt. Though the title is extremely sarcastic, there is a certain cathartic beauty to Goldthwait’s tale.