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Getting Even With Dad - MGM Limited Edition Collection

MGM // PG // January 15, 2015
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted February 25, 2015 | E-mail the Author
As a member of the generation who grew up with Macaulay Culkin, despite having lived through it, it's hard to imagine how much of a phenomenon Home Alone was. The film opened in November and remained number one at the box office into February -- even the biggest films these days are lucky to last three or four weeks at the top of the charts. The movie turned Culkin into a phenomenon, the kind that studios would bankroll a project on, but child stardom burns bright and dies quickly. 1994 marked the end of Culkin's reign, with the actor starring in not one, not two, but three box office bombs, a string of flops kicked off by Getting Even With Dad (the other two being The Pagemaster and Richie Rich). Viewed today, it seems like a script that was hastily rewritten in an attempt to capitalize on Culkin's fame, cramming in shades of his other projects.

Culkin plays Timmy, a young boy who lives with his aunt, Kitty (Kathleen Wilhoite). When she gets married on a whim and decides to go on her honeymoon, she drops Timmy off with his estranged father, Ray (Ted Danson). Ray stopped visiting or communicating with Timmy when he was sent to prison for thievery, and Kitty's timing frustrates Ray because he's in the middle of a new job, heisting $1.5 million worth of rare coins discovered amongst a dead woman's possessions. He and his partners, Bobby (Saul Rubinek) and Carl (Gailard Sartain) have no trouble doing the job, but are shocked when they discover Timmy has taken it upon himself to re-hide the coins somewhere else, then blackmailing them into hanging out with him if they want to know where he's stashed them.

For a comedy about a witty kid pulling a fast one on a trio of adult criminals, Getting Even With Dad is oddly sleepy. Timmy is a fairly passive character who seems to expect his dad to refuse to play his game, despite the fact that it's been carefully rigged to give him no choice but to play along or go to jail. Were this angle played up a little more, it might give the movie a bit of comic bite, like a PG-rated premonition of Bad Santa (one of the few, very funny jokes in the movie is Timmy's photograph "with Mom", which shows him sitting sadly next to a tombstone). Instead, the film plods, bonding father and son without any sense of urgency or momentum; Danson is so naturally kindly and warmhearted that there's never any real sense that he's upset with Timmy. The film's score is also a key contributor to this laid-back atmosphere, not to mention it constantly bursts in with a sappy, sentimental refrain that inelegantly underlines the movie's theoretical emotional beats.

Viewed outside of Culkin fever, I wonder if the movie was originally written for someone a couple years older and reformatted when he became attached to the project. Scenes such as the one where Ray teaches him how to talk to girls and the overall complexity of Timmy's plan would probably make a bit more sense in the hands of a 13-year-old, and there would have been more time before Ray's jail stint for Timmy to become attached before Ray exited his life. Those in-story revisions are also separate from any revisions for the sake of the audience; much of Danson's dialogue involves repeating something someone else already said, likely for the benefit of younger viewers. The movie's comedy seems like it's trying to ape Home Alone whenever it can, from belabored physical comedy involving Bobby falling down stairs and getting dumped in the back of a garbage truck to Timmy outsmarting a cop tailing him and waving at him as he makes his escape. There's even a hand-drawn treasure map. Rubinek is a fine character actor, but he's no Joe Pesci, and Sartain is reduced to playing dumb slopping mustard and chili on himself.

That said, the movie is pleasant enough to watch. Rubinek and Sartain get tiresome, but Danson and Culkin have a warm chemistry, and it only gets better when they're hanging out with Theresa (Glenne Headly), an undercover police officer trying to nab Ray who ends up kind of attracted to him. Even though the spark of romance generated between Theresa and Ray is a silly contrivance, there's more than enough charisma between the two of them to make it work. The same goes for a sequence where Culkin lip-syncs to a rock-and-roll song at a theme park -- you can practically hear the producers counting their money, but it's kind of charming all the same. The movie is a little overlong for a family comedy at almost 110 minutes, and its modern-day appeal is probably limited to those with fond memories of the movie, but there's nothing here that's likely to sully that nostalgia.

The same poster art that graced MGM's retail DVD over a decade ago is re-used here, framed inside MGM's Limited Edition Collection template (a gold border). The single-disc release comes in an eco-friendly Amaray case (the kind that uses less plastic, but does not have holes), and there is no insert. The artwork is printed on thick paper and has the texture and appearance of something printed off of a laser printer.

The Video and Audio
The 2001 MGM DVD of Getting Even With Dad only offered a 1.33:1 full frame transfer. Fans of the film will be pleased to know that this new DVD-R version corrects that artistic injustice with a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. A tiny bit of black can also be seen on the left and right sides of the frame. This does not appear to be a fresh scan of the movie, given the occasional fleck and scratch that pops up, but it does look fairly nice for a dated master, with reasonably natural colors (occasionally just a touch muted), impressive detail, and even a visible layer of film grain. No intrusive sharpening appears to have been applied, and I spotted no artifacts or banding throughout the presentation. Sound, as with the old DVD, remains a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track, but it's pretty lively, pumping out a number of oldies with a nice vibrance. Dialogue sounds fine, but immersiveness is low (by design, not the mix's fault). The other DVD also had 2.0 Spanish and French tracks, as well as subtitles in all three languages, but, disappointingly, all of these alternative options have disappeared.

The Extras
Also missing: the film's original theatrical trailer, the sole extra on the standard DVD. Instead, you get zilch.

Fans who have been waiting for a widescreen edition of Getting Even With Dad will be pleased to know this burn-on-demand version of the DVD presents the film in OAR, even if the sound quality remains the same and multiple alternate-language options have been stripped. The film itself is a trifle: far from perfect, but arguably more sweet than the public at large remembers. Lightly recommended.

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