Father Figures (2017) REVIEW – The Little Engine That At Least Tried

If anyone of a certain age remembers the infamous South Park episode Cartman’s Mom Is A Dirty Slut, we’re presented with a scenario where Eric Cartman (the fat kid) tries to find out who his father is. He latches on to one figure after the next until he realizes that his Mom slept with so damn many men, just about anyone – including John Elway – could be his birth father. Then come the test results, which are a shocker to even the newest viewers.

The recent film by Lawrence Sher, Father Figures, basically rehashes this premise. In a subtle homage to the old “roadster” movies of the 1980’s and 90’s, actors Ed Helms and Owen Wilson play two brothers who embark on a journey to find both their real father and their roots as brothers. Their road trip turns into a series of pitfalls and shenanigans which shape their characters, heighten the tension, and you know the rest.

While both the premise and the format of this film are both somewhat unoriginal, “Father Figures” still manages to deliver the goods without falling apart completely.

The film begins by introducing us to Peter Reynolds, a nerdy and reserved doctor played by Ed Helms. Though exceptionally intelligent with a solid career as a proctologist, his pessimistic view on life alienates him from his family. Not long after divorcing his wife, Peter attends the wedding of his mother, played by veteran actress Glenn Close. Here, we meet his twin brother Kyle, played by Owen Wilson. Where Peter is a Charlie Brown of sorts, his twin brother is extroverted, cheery and never sad – basically, the yin of Peter’s yang. Following their mother’s wedding, Peter and Kyle begin to question who their father was. Close reveals that Peter and Kyle were, in fact, illegitimate children and given her background as a sexual loose-cannon, she admits that she never found out who their father was. This confession prompts the brothers to take a road trip to discover who their Dad is while also seeing the bond they share as brothers.

There are some flaws from the very beginning of this film.

Father Figures opens with Peter giving a gentleman a prostate exam in a not-so-clever attempt at a toilet gag. This scene is followed immediately by a few rushed shots showing the disintegration of Peter’s marriage. Before we even realize what Peter has been through, we’re in the middle of a wedding – all in less than ten minutes. The rushed pacing left me a little skeptical for what was to come. The film also has a few, but noticeable, comedic bombs that also feel rushed. Probably the most memorable include a scene where Owen Wilson winds up urinating on some kid in a bathroom. Somehow, this was supposed to be funny. There was an idea there, but it wasn’t entirely flushed out for my taste – no pun intended.

For its pitfalls, the film does have some good moments in the plot, including a twist ending that I found both original and touching.

Ed Helms is also no stranger to comedic films, himself a former correspondent from The Daily Show, and his delivery as the cynical Peter works quite well. It’s also nice to see Owen Wilson again, though his character comes off as a quirkier clone of Kevin Rawley from the Meet the Parents series (a spiritual, optimistic know-it-all who seems to have everything in life). Wilson and Helms have good chemistry as a comedic duo and, though they’re both utterly different as characters, we do get a sense that they genuinely care and grow from their experience together.

I’d say the high point of the film comes when Helms and Wilson meet up with Roland Hunt, another runner-up in the list of father figures played by JK Simmons. Hunt is a gruff “repo-man” armed to the teeth with firearms but is more self-conscious of his actions than we realize. It’s safe to say Hunt’s appearance is where the film begins to pick up the tempo. Every one of his scenes brings something new and entertaining to the table, and it’s clear he’s probably the most fleshed out character the film has to offer. Once Helms and Wilson leave Hunt behind, the movie starts to work better as a comedy. I guess JK Simmons was the defibrillator this film needed to start living again, but that’s me.

Father Figures is far from a perfect comedy, but it’s no train wreck. We have a decent cast of veteran actors who don’t waste time with their characters. The script needs a few more drafts to match the level of “Dumb and Dumber” or even “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,” but it’ll make for a good Saturday night watch in the future.

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While rocky in the beginning, Father Figures picks up and delivers later on.