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Susan Granger's review of 'Parental Guidance'

Published 2:40 pm, Friday, January 4, 2013
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When Artie Decker (Billy Crystal), a minor-league baseball announcer, loses his job as the voice of the Fresno Grizzles, he's bereft. So when his daughter Alice (Marisa Tomei) and son-in-law Phil (Tom Everett Scott) must go out of town on a business trip, his devoted

wife, Diane (Bette Midler) says they'd love to stay with their seldom-seen grandchildren, ignoring Artie's curmudgeonly protests.

"We're the other grandparents," Diane wistfully observes. "This is our chance!" But uptight Alice and techno-geek Phil live in a so-called "smart house," in which everything is automated and computerized. Not surprisingly, their children's lives are strictly scheduled and dutifully monitored ("no sugar allowed"). Regimented 12-year-old Harper (Bailee Madison) is on a fast track to ace an audition that will get her into a prestigious music school to prepare her to play violin with a world-famous orchestra. Her stressed younger brother, Turner (Joshua Rush), has a stuttering problem, while mischievous Barker (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf) has an imaginary kangaroo friend named Carl. To call Alice and Phil overprotective and indulgent is an understatement; they define "helicopter parents." On the other hand, technology-challenged Artie and Diane come from a different generation, one that raised children by old-fashioned, common-sense rules -- and bribery. A colossal culture clash is inevitable.

An admitted baseball fanatic, Crystal is in his comedic element, while Midler is tart, touching and tender. Their "Book of Love" duet is a highlight. Written by Lisa Addario and her husband Joe Syracuse ("Surf's Up") and broadly directed by Andy Fickman ("Race to Witch Mountain"), the script vacillates, somewhat disconcertingly, between astute, sophisticated observations and juvenile toilet humor, particularly when Artie encourages constipated Barker to move his bowels in a public bathroom by singing "Here Comes Mr. Doody."

Too bad the supporting characters fall flat -- like Gedde Watanabe as the owner of a Chinese "healthy food" restaurant and a cameo by skateboarder Tony Hawk.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Parental Guidance" is an amusing 7, as Billy Crystal delivers nostalgic, heartwarming fun for young children, parents and grandparents.