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On AMC: Albert Brooks in The In-Laws

In_laws_ver2I know it got mostly terrible reviews, but I’m going to watch the 2004 remake of The In-Laws on AMC, if not tonight then one of these times in the next few weeks. Why? Because it co-stars Albert Brooks (in the role played by Alan Arkin in the 1979 original; Michael Douglas takes the Peter Falk part), and I just find it hard to believe that a movie with Brooks could be wholly devoid of laughs.

Of all the comedians who came to prominence in the 1970s and 80s (and there were an awful lot of them), Brooks is one of the most distinctive. You could liken him to Woody Allen with the rough edges rounded off, but that just amounts to saying that they’re both Jewish, and that they both primarily write and direct their own films. (Brooks hasn’t made as many, and is more willing than Allen to appear as an actor in other director’s films.)

He’s closer to Larry David in his willingness to play an unmitigated jerk, a guy you laugh at, not with. That’s a role that few performers want to embrace in a day when tabloid journalism has erased the line between public performance and private character. (Which makes it good that Brooks is best known to mass audiences as the voice of the father fish Marlin in Finding Nemo.) Also like David, his characters are sympathetic only in that their world is an indifferent if not cruel place, where people would as soon run over you as change lanes.

Brooks’ edge was sharpest in his early films, Real Life (1979, a prescient satire on what we now call “reality TV”), Modern Romance (1981), and Lost in America (1985). He softened somewhat in the 1990s, with Defending Your Life (1991) and Mother (1996), his most audience-friendly films, though his most recent movie, Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World (2005) was something of a return to his old form (an element that the misleading title obscured).

The original In-Laws was an awfully funny movie—to this day, when I see someone running from an enemy in a movie, I always hear the voice of Peter Falk yelling “Serpentine! Serpentine!!” But I’ll try to watch the remake with an open mind.

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