With a vague title, virtually no marketing, and one of those badly Photoshopped posters that smacks of a movie that was filmed four years ago and shelved, Father Figures is the kind of movie I almost certainly wouldn’t see if it wasn’t my job, the kind where the Venn diagram of its potential viewership and my likely readership almost certainly looks like two separate orbs. Also, it stars include Terry Bradshaw. On the way into the auditorium, the publicist gave me a look of vague bemusement, as if to say “You’re actually going to watch this?”
Watch it I did, and you know what? I kind of liked it. Sure, it’s not a work of competent, or at times even coherent, storytelling, and it has that lost-in-translation, unstuck-in-time quality common to bargain-bin DVDs everywhere (starting with the central premise that Owen Wilson and Ed Helms, two guys who look nothing alike, play twins). But that pure, childlike strangeness is part of what makes it compelling. And besides, it’s not every day you get to see a movie where Owen Wilson pees on a child, or hear Christopher Walken deliver the line “Death comes for us all, even the kitties.”
Which I suppose is all a long way of saying that Father Figures is a bad movie that made me laugh a lot. It’s the kind of movie you watch a few drinks deep on an airplane, enjoy, and then force friends to watch if only to confirm that it really exists. It lulls you into a contented trance with periods of hokey exposition, then punctuates them with bursts of inspired strangeness and laugh-out-loud vulgarity.
Helms and Wilson play Peter and Kyle Reynolds, whose characters seem to have been decided based solely on the type the actors usually play. Helms, the “paging Dr. Fagg*t” of The Hangover trilogy, plays Peter, a straitlaced, divorced colo-rectal doctor who’s only ever had sex with one woman. Owen Wilson, famous as the new agey surf bro Hansel in the Zoolander movies, plays new agey surf bro Kyle, who made his fortune when someone decided to put his face on a barbeque sauce bottle. Kyle is a ladies man, married to a lithe Hawaiian (with a never-explained Australian accent) played by Jessica Gomes, last seen as eye candy in another bizarre, barely released R-rated comedy, Once Upon A Time In Venice. It’s nice that she’s found a niche.
The estranged brothers have been brought together for a wedding, their mother’s (Glenn Close), during which they learn that the man they thought was their father, who died of colon cancer when they were babies and sent Peter down his current career path (making for great asshole-joke fodder), wasn’t. She hadn’t told them before now, which is weird considering they’re in their 40s. Peter has a total freak-out about this, which is weird because he’s in his 40s. But it’s a utilitarian freak-out, because it justifies the ensuing road movie, which begins as a trip to Miami to search for the man their mother now says is their real father: Terry Bradshaw.
Peter asks, apparently without irony, why his mom didn’t tell him that their father was “the coolest guy on Earth.” On the flight to Miami, Kyle and Peter watch an old Terry Bradshaw commercial, during which they refer to him as an “Adonis.” Wait, Terry Bradshaw? Granted I didn’t grow up in the 1970s, but this is what Terry Bradshaw looked like in 1975, on his trading card no less. Even at the peak of his career as a Super Bowl quarterback, he was still basically the Clint Howard of sports, a lovable hillbilly with a face that looks it’s seen a mule hoof in 3D.
I honestly can’t tell if the movie was serious about Terry Bradshaw being handsome and cool or if it was meant as a running gag, but it’s weirdly compelling either way. And they don’t overdo his screen time. If you’ve seen Flirting With Disaster, a legitimately good-good comedy about searching for your birth father, you understand Father Figures‘ basic structure.
Part of why it’s so confusing in 2017 is that Father Figures feels like a Farrelly brothers comedy from the 1990s (which you loved, which I loved, but which mostly don’t hold up). The plot is a blatant contrivance, the situations don’t really attempt believability, but exist mostly as an excuse to introduce new, strange characters played by famous comedic actors and comedians (in this case JK Simmons, June Squibb, Ali Wong, Katie Aselton, and Katt Williams, among others). Most of the appeal comes from gross-out set pieces or memorably weird dialogue.
I’ll be happy when the half-assed, not-especially-committed comedy goes away, but the plot that’s merely a jumping off point, rather than a monolithic concept, communicated adequately in a single sentence and then hammered into mincemeat for 90 minutes (Frat vs. Family! Dad Vs. Stepdad! Bad Moms! Dumb Dad! Fist Fight! Christmas Dinner!), is a refreshing throwback to a less SEO-driven time. Whatever you may say about Father Figures, it’s not tedious. It’s sloppy and dopey and weird, but it’s not needy and manic. It allows you some breathing room, all the better to enjoy the good parts, like Ving Rhames’s character calling Glenn Close’s “a dick whisperer.”
Also, Katt Williams?! The last time I was writing about Katt Williams, he was hijacking passenger ferries, leading police on tricycle chases, and getting arrested at his own court cases. I can’t help but feel warm feelings towards a movie willing to take a chance on Katt Williams.
Father Figures has some great moments, some bad moments, and some inexplicable moments, but there’s an endearing innocence to it. It’s like watching a comedian whose jokes mostly aren’t great, but is such a lovable oddball that you can’t help enjoy yourself. Death comes for us all, even the kitties.