"J. K. Simmons, Terry Bradshaw save "Father Figures" with charismatic performances"
By: Steve Pulaski
Kyle and Peter Reynolds (Owen Wilson and Ed Helms, respectively) are fraternal twin brothers on opposite trajectories. Kyle lives with his beautiful Hawaiian wife with a child on the way and lofty royalties from his likeness on a brand of barbecue sauce. Peter is recently divorced with a son who hates him. Peter feels significantly more displaced when his mother, Helen Baxter (Glenn Close), informs him and Kyle at her wedding that she is unsure of the identity of their biological father. She admits the 1970s were a wild time, and her frequent hookups at Studio 54 and other clubs could've resulted in anyone being their father. The first potential candidate that comes to her mind is former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw.
The two bumbling brothers hit the road to break the news to Terry, but eventually things get complicated when they realize the extent of their mother's hookups. This brings them to the home of a former-broker-turned-petty-criminal, played by J. K. Simmons, and his mother, played byNebraska's June Squibb, as well as that of a beloved Irish cop who, if revealed to be the father, poses a great moral black-mark on the conscience of Peter. Their adventure also sets them up for a better opportunity to understand one another, as Peter's cynicism contrasts greatly with Kyle's "universe-centered" existence and his incessantly reiterated mantra of trusting the magic of the world and admiring the beauty of randomness.
Father Figures is buoyed by a pleasant mix of above-average leads, downright terrific supporting performances, competent writing, and agreeable schmaltz, all of which meshes together to elevate the film to the level of perfectly acceptable entertainment. It's the uncommon "soft R-rated" comedy that earns its rating because of one too many F-bombs rather than greeting us with nude bodies and outrageous sight-gags shortly after the film begins. The film is never too raunchy to the point where it feels comically strained nor desperate to get a laugh more than maybe two times during the entire 113 minute runtime; despite it simply not being funny, the scene with Owen Wilson urinating on a kid is actually much more tolerable than it sounds.
Ordinarily, I'd chalk up the modest success of Lawrence Sher's directorial debut to a mix of good-to-great actors rising above poorly written material, but if I did, I'd be lying. Yes, Father Figuresisn't as idiotic as a manic road-comedy about two middle-aged dorks trying to locate their father should be, but a handful of performances in the film are quite exceptional, particularly the secondary character. J. K. Simmons is effective in his role, showing with this and All Nighter that he might have something of a future with broadly written comedies, June Squibb owns her first and only major line in the entire film, Katt Williams as a hitchhiker who assures Kyle and Peter he is not a serial killer is very funny in the bursts that he's given, Katie Aselton is eminently lovable once again, and Terry Bradshaw is remarkably composed and charismatic, showing why his post-football career as a personality has taken off in such a big way. Screenwriter Justin Malen truly trusts his material — which we really see culminate during the final act, when the sincerity eclipses the comedy — in a similar way Sher trusts his actors enough not to give them atrocious material and instead rely on their naturally likable abilities.
It's also nice to have two mostly understated comedians in the leading roles that are written well-enough as characters that they don't need to compensate with brazen personalities. Owen Wilson and Ed Helms could theoretically both play the more composed friend in a buddy-comedy movie, and the two compliment one another more than they contrast from one another here. The difference in their dynamic changes when Kyle's laidback ways start to conflict with Peter's more structured ways, resulting in the lines between the "straight man" of the two, if there is one, being blurred and not as easily communicated unlike most dual-character comedies. While Wilson and Helms essentially coast through the film on the parts they're used to playing, Sher and Malen aren't quick to put them into easily describable molds.
Father Figures sometimes forgets it's a comedy, especially by its conclusion, when it fully embraces the sappier side of its consanguineous story. It consistently maintains interest in the outcome and extent of its premise, even when there are long-stretches of laugh-free moments, but the humor isn't equitable over a fairly generous length of time. Still, I usually find myself harshly criticizing films like Father Figures for being part of the "maximum antics, minimum laughter" breed of comedy where numerous events occur but few transpire into actual laughs. With this in mind, I'm happy to say that Sher's film successfully delivers maximum antics, moderate laughter, and measurable enjoyment, all things duly considered.