An odd couple mixed up in international crime
Loves: Alan Arkin
Likes: Andrew Bergman scripts, Peter Falk
Dislikes: Race-based comedy
Hates: That this is the only (good) Arkin/Falk film
Barbara and Tommy are going to get married in a few days, and a few days before the wedding, Barbara's parents, Sheldon (Arkin) and Carol (Nancy Dussault, Too Close for Comfort), are going to finally meet Tommy's often-absent father Vince (Falk), who is usually away on business trips. Sheldon has an immediate mistrust of Vince and the family his little girl is going to marry into, a feeling that doesn't improve when Vince shows up at his dental practice unannounced and convinces him to help him retrieve items from the safe at Vince's office. This puts the two men on the run from criminals and the government, and turns Sheldon's staid life upside down. It's only complicated by Vince claiming he's working for the CIA, a story that may or may not be true, as Sheldon gets mixed messages from everyone around him.
It's no surprise that Hollywood tried to recapture the magic of Arkin and Falk's pairing with an ill-received 2003 remake starring Albert Brooks and Michael Douglas. Falk and Arkin made it look so easy to be so funny, but the problem mainly lies in the fact that, as good as Douglas is, he's nothing like Falk, whose undeniable likeability as something of a nutty schlub makes the pairing with the straitlaced Arkin work. It's hard to think of an actor that could work in the part aside from Falk (perhaps Tony Shalhoub, though if Mark Ruffalo wants to give it a shot in a few years, I'm willing to watch.) Falk is great at being charming enough to believe that Arkin's character would go along despite the obvious warning signs, while Arkin manages to allow enough of a snark into his performance that he doesn't seem like a naive buffoon, but rather a father who wants to try and make his daughter happy.
As enjoyable as the film is, the stor´y is a bit of a mess, full of missed opportunities, plot holes and major contrivances. For example, while New York City certainly was a tire fire at the time of the film, it's hard to imagine a gun battle in the middle of Manhattan drawing such little attention. The thing is, in the moment, you don't question much about the movie, especially since Sheldon often takes care of that for you, observing the increasing madness around him with bemusement. As important as Falk is to the feel of the movie, if Arkin wasn't such a master of coiled rage, the core conflict wouldn't be as entertaining as it is.
As with a lot of comedy from less aware times, there are some jokes that get harder and more uncomfortable to laugh at or with, and that's the case with James Hong's character, Bing Wong. Hong is a great actor, but when the laughs Bing gets are because you can't understand his Chinese, it's not Hollywood's finest hour (though the Mae West bit remains funny.) While it's certainly not the most overtly racist bit of comedy involving an Asian character from the time period, it just doesn't work as well as it would have in the past because of the basis for the gag. (That Hiller refers to Hong and his fellow Chinese actor as "Orientals" on the included commentary [see The Extras] doesn't help.)
The audio is presented in a LPCM 1.0 track that gives sufficient power to all the elements as well as appropriate separation, particularly late in the game when things get more active (though gunshots never get very heavy.) Dialogue is always clear, the score is strong and there are no issues with distortion. It's a rather straightforward mix that's biggest strength is its consistency.
"Alan Arkin on The In-Laws: Sheldon Kornpett's Gleeful Descent into Madness" (24:07) is a new interview with the actor, in which he talks about his career, including his filmography and influences; his initial discomfort with comedy and what it's like for him to act, with an excellent amount of reminiscing, background and insight on The In-Laws. There's a lot of great info here courtesy of a very thoughtful man, as well as a glimpse at his imitation of Falk.
The 34:07 "In Support of The In-Laws" features new interviews with Ed Begley, Jr., Dussault, Hong and David Paymer, as good a quartet of supporting actors as you could ask for. Through their memories from and observations on the film and the people involved, as well as the art of being a character actor, this piece presents a very interesting perspective on the movie, and an entertaining one as well thanks to some fun stories.
The trailer for the film (2:47) is the kind of clumsy narrator-led preview that reveals way too much about the movie.
The traditional Criterion booklet included checks in at 24 pages, with info about the movie and disc, great stills, an excellent essay on the film by comedy writer Stephen Winer, and a chapter from Hiller's unpublished memoir, in which he goes into detail on the production of The In-Laws, revealing some behind the scenes secrets.
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