The jokes, energy and plot all land softly in Father Figures – which wouldn’t be a problem if this weren’t a Hollywood movie that requires formulaic high stakes. The film spends too much time trying to be as meaningful with its comedy as it is raunchy.
Peter (Ed Helms) is a depressed divorcée more interested in watching Law & Order reruns than spending time with his son. His fraternal twin Kyle (Owen Wilson) gets a parental version of cold feet when he finds out his Hawaiian girlfriend is pregnant. The two go on a father-finding journey when their mother Helen (Glenn Close) reveals that their father didn’t die from cancer when they were tots, but is actually Terry Bradshaw (played by the footballer himself). Or is it Roland Hunt (J.K. Simmons), a Wall-Street broker wash-up now resorting to petty theft to make a living? Or perhaps it’s Dr. Tinkler (Christopher Walken), their hometown veterinarian.
It turns out their mom was having a lot of unprotected sex before she was their mom. (“It was the ’70s!” becomes the common justifying refrain.) As the twins go from one end of the country to the other to find their estranged father, to the surprise of no one in the audience, they learn certain emotional truths about fatherhood and, ultimately, about brotherhood, too.
Because this isn’t just another raunchy comedy for Helms and Wilson, who’ve bro-ed out in their previous male-dominated comedies (The Hangover andWedding Crashers, respectively), Father Figures tries too hard to add a layer of meaning to its comedy. But still, more often than not, the jokes told onscreen are at the expense of Helen, whose gifts in the bedroom are described in graphic detail to Kyle and Peter by the numerous men she slept with, just before the brothers can reveal that she’s their mom. It’s a joke that writer Justin Malen and director Lawrence Sher don’t believe gets old, but it does.
Jokes are so scarce that Wilson and Helms are forced to simply react to each other, a difficult feat given their superficial character arcs. Peter is a doctor who specializes in colon cancer, so cue a buttload of butt jokes, and Kyle is a beach bum who lucked into becoming the brand image of a barbecue sauce. His laid-back charisma irritates the anal-retentive Peter, who’s still upset at his brother for having more sex than him when they were teenagers.Sher has worked as a cinematographer on comedies like The Hangover andDan in Real Life, but perhaps he was too busy directing his debut film to worry about his first craft, as Father Figures is surprisingly boring to look at. In fact, everything about the movie is surprisingly low-key: the humour, dialogue, energy and direction. Spectacular scenes – like a near railroad car crash and the brothers’ fight with some Irish lads – become tonally off-kilter for a movie largely based on the most banal kind of fraternal tension.
While it must be hard to keep diversity in mind when the two main white characters may be related to any of the major cast, it’s unsavoury to give all the other perfunctory, serving roles solely to people of colour. Comedian Katt Williams’s turn as a hitchhiker is particularly egregious as it explicitly plays into the magical black character trope. Kyle, who keeps telling Peter that he has to learn how to understand what the universe is telling him to do, literally nicknames Williams “The Universe” when he magically mediates their fraternal spat.
Father Figures unintentionally proves that having good male role models is necessary because otherwise men become vindictive jerks jealous of each other’s sexual scores and financial status. The film amounts to the predictable kind of output from middle-aged dudes whose sense of humour is anchored to objectifying the sexual appetites of women.