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Thing About My Folks, The

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 09/15/05 23:49:51

"A.K.A. Driving Mr. Columbo"
3 stars (Just Average)

“The Thing About My Folks” is the kind of film that people tend to praise because of what it doesn’t contain–vulgar language, graphic nudity or people being torn apart like fresh bread–than what it does. And yet, it does manage to develop a certain charm that allows the more indulgent audience members to overlook the fact that there isn’t anything on display here that hasn’t been seen a hundred times before.

In it, Paul Reiser (who also wrote the screenplay) stars as an average schnook who is surprised to see his father (Peter Falk) appear at his apartment one night and is especially surprised to learn that his mother (Olympia Dukakis) has inexplicably decided to leave her husband of 47 years with only a maddeningly vague note of explanation. While his sisters try to track Mom down, Reiser does the only thing that a person can do in a film like this–he takes Dad on a road trip that allows them to air old grievances, come to terms with the past and re-evaluate their relationship over a few days that are punctuated with the occasional bar brawl or line dance.

The film itself isn’t much–it hits upon all of the cliches of the genre (even contriving to get the duo behind the wheel of a more photogenic old-time roadster for most of the trip), the tear-jerking final scenes feel a little too forced and calculated to be entirely effective and the whole film seems to have been made to prove that a little of Paul Reiser can go a long way. The humor is broad and so is the sentiment. At times, it feels like a middle-of-the-road TV movie that somehow took a wrong turn and wound up on the big screen instead. Even the framing–with most of the action aimed squarely at the center–suggests the confines of a TV screen.

However, “The Thing About My Folks” does have one thing going for it that makes it worth watching for those willing to overlook those flaws–the performance by Peter Falk. Although he generally only pops up on the big screen these days in scene-stealing supporting parts (such as his hilariously profane turn in Walter Hill’s “Undisputed”), this film give him a shot at a front-and-center leading role and he takes to it with the ferocious zeal of a dog confronting an especially juicy bone. His work here may not be a stretch by any means (one scene in particular seems to have been included solely to allow him to do his beloved “Columbo” schtick) but it is so effortlessly charming that even the most cynical of viewers will find it endearing.

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