Updated: Feb 5, 2020
Father Figures, a comedy about twin brothers (Ed Helms and Owen Wilson) on a quest to find their birth father after their mother (six-time Oscar nominee Glenn Close) reveals that she does not actually know who he is, has the makings of a likable feel-good comedy, but loses its way after the first forty minutes or so. This is the rare raunchy comedy where I would have preferred more of the sweetness and sentiment and less of the vulgar humor. The great cast makes up for a lot, but the movie just is not that funny.
The film fits into the subgenre of comedies about two people who do not get along going on a road trip together. At the beginning of the film Peter (Helms, Stu from the Hangover trilogy) and Kyle (Wilson, who recently played the dad in the charming movie Wonder) have not seen each other in four years. Peter is unhappily divorced with a son who hates him. He resents Kyle because Kyle seems to float through life so easily, while everything is a challenge for him. They reconnect at their mom’s wedding where, after they confront her about it, she tells them that their father could be one of several men she was with in the mid-1970’s. So the brothers set off on a quest to find him.
Helms and Wilson are both playing the roles they have had success with in the past. Those types do bounce off of each other well, though. Helms is the straight-man who just needs to loosen up a little bit. Wilson is happy and laid-back, but maybe needs to take things a little more seriously. There are both likable enough that the film never becomes bad, but the screenplay (by Justin Malen, co-writer of 2016 holiday comedy Office Christmas Party) is not nearly funny enough to get it away from average.
On the plus side, the story structure allows the film to introduce a few possible fathers. Their first (and best) trip takes them to meet football hall of famer Terry Bradshaw (in his first movie role in eleven years, playing a version of himself). I laughed several times during this part of the film (and the first sequence, with all the setup) and was surprised at just how pleasant everything was. I thought Father Figures was settling into a nice groove, but after the first forty minutes or so it runs out of steam.
The formula becomes they go somewhere, learn some new information, find out way too much about their mom’s sex life (an unfunny gag that is repeated several times too many) and then look for the next guy. The sequence with Bradshaw is the only one with any life in it. However, the structure does give the movie an excuse to use J.K. Simmons (who just showed up as Commissioner Gordon in Justice League) and the invaluable Christopher Walken as potential dads and Ving Rhames as a friend of Bradshaw’s. Simmons’ character is not particularly funny and Walken is not around enough for his unique skills to really be taken advantage of, but at least their appearances make for a nice distraction.
Father Figures (104 minutes without the end credits) is not an actively bad film. It begins amiably enough. But it is too repetitive and too often misguided in its attempts at humor. There are just too many sequences that do not work (a scene at a wake is a huge misfire). It could have been a nice, feel-good, holiday comedy. Instead, it is a forgettable waste of a fine cast.
2½ out of 5
Ed Helms as Peter Reynolds
Owen Wilson as Kyle Reynolds
Glenn Close as Helen
Jessica Gomes as Kaylani
Terry Bradshaw as Terry Bradshaw
Ving Rhames as Rod Hamilton
J.K. Simmons as Roland Hunt
Christopher Walken as Dr. Walter Tinkler
Katt Williams as Hitchhiker
Katie Aselton as Sarah O’Callaghan
Directed by Lawrence Sher
Written by Justin Malen