Owen Wilson, Ed Helms, Katt Williams, and half a dozen other legends together in one film. What could go wrong?Earlier this year, Richard Linklater’s Last Flag Flying debuted and opened New York Film Festival. If there’s one thing Linklater has proved, it’s that he can take simple and oft time overdone genre, such as romance or coming of age, and take it to the very limits it can be pushed. With Last Flag Flying, he did it again with the “road trip” genre of films. While this genre of film really came into its own during the 90s and 00s, it’s not aged well with time. However, upon leaving that movie, it was clear it just wasn’t that great, through no fault of its visionary director. Rather, the genre itself is just burnt out and stale. With Father Figures, we have what may appear to be a completely different film that looks more like a Hangover-style comedy than anything else. However, underneath both of these films you’ll find the same dry and old mechanics at work and much like in Linklater’s film, they don’t exactly equal a good movie. Even though this film sports a cast with quite a few notable names from several different backgrounds, it just ends up being a big boring mess.
This film marks Lawrence Sher’s directorial debut. However, he is no newcomer to film or even comedies. He was a cinematographer, notably in such films like the Hangover trilogy and many more familiar comedies in that vein. Now, shooting films as a cinematographer does prove your worth as a cameraman, but not as a director. His background is quite evident in this film, as there are many great shots of the characters or the environment that offer a great deal of exposition or overview of the area or landscape. However, the tone is completely off during a majority of these shots. For example, during some moments which could be read as tense, Sher provides us with these somewhat dark and dramatic shots of the character. While this would be great with a heavy drama, seeing something like this in what is supposed to be a comedy is just a complete change of pace from what the rest of the film is. It feels like editing in a scene from The Departed into the Hangover. What’s worse is that those moments could have been shot in a comedic fashion and probably could’ve helped to make this thing watchable, but from what I see, it looks like Sher is simply asserting how well he can make a shot look while giving absolutely little regard to the tone of the piece. Beyond that, several scenes are shot more like a commercial than anything else. In any scene where there is driving, I’m left with a bit of confusion. I’m not sure if Sher is establishing the fact that they’re driving or he’s just edited in some spare footage from a Chevy commercial. If an announcer began announcing lease rates at any moment, I wouldn’t have been surprised. The comedic scenes are decently shot, but given the inherent lack of humor in the script, I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt in that. All in all, it makes for a rather weak debut.
As I just mentioned, the script is the real weak point of this film. In a film such as this, especially given the cast, comedy is the point of emphasis. However, this film is devoid of humor in every single way. Any of the longer and drawn out jokes or comedic scenes that normally causes the audience to erupt with laughter will make them recoil out of confusion and discomfort. Most of the jokes trade intelligence, humor, and logic for childish dirty jokes. It’s not that dirty jokes can’t be funny, but you can’t just yell profanities and expect a modern audience to laugh on instinct. On top of that, all of the “jokes” that are built up to are just awful. You wait to see how a good build up will go, but at the end of it, you get a pretty terrible, subpar improv sketch comedy troupe level of acting and writing. I wonder if any thought went into making this film funny as I couldn’t find anything to laugh at throughout the film, and I tried. The storytelling is formulaic at best, but I wasn’t expecting an Oscar-worthy story. It does keep you guessing as to who the father is, but it is neither enthralling nor engaging.
Ed Helms and Owen Wilson did the best they could with the material, Wilson especially. He does manage to draw out more than what the script provides as there are brief moments where you can feel for his character and empathize with him. However, with Helms’ character, there is never a moment where you can feel for him or his struggle. In fact, throughout the movie, I didn’t even care if they found out who their father was. I was only interested in how many outlandish ways they could theorize who the father was. In a film where the premise is based on finding the father of these two, that alone speaks volumes. The rest of the performances weren’t bad, however, with the writing and characters they were given, it wasn’t exactly great. Ving Rhames, Christopher Walken and Even J.K Simmons can’t manage to make this script work.
Normally around this point, I would mention the fact that this film’s release was postponed not once, but twice over the course of the last year. I would also normally assert a statement such as “This film should not be made”. However, I won’t say that. Linklater’s Last Flag Flying wasn’t on par with his other work, but it wasn’t bad. It didn’t even beg the question if road trip movies should be packed in a pine box floating down the river. However, Father Figures is the last nail in the coffin proving beyond a doubt that the well for road trip movies is dry as a bone. With that, you could even say that Sher’s Father Figures is a more important film than Linklater’s Last Flag Flying. This is not a good movie, nor is it a funny movie. If I had to guess, there is pretty much nothing to be enjoyed in this film aside from the fact that hopefully, it will be responsible for killing a genre.
The film is now playing.