Robert De Niro plays Salvo Maniscalco in "About My Father." Photo courtesy of Lionsgate
LOS ANGELES, May 24 (UPI) -- Robert De Niro played the ultimate scary in-law in the Fockers trilogy. He's a little gentler meeting his future in-laws in About My Father, in theaters Friday, but unfortunately, it doesn't make the jokes any funnier.
Sebastian (Sebastian Maniscalco, who also co-wrote) is planning to propose to his girlfriend, Ellie (Leslie Bibb), at her family's Fourth of July party. Sebastian's father, Salvo (De Niro) insists on meeting Ellie's family before he gives his son the wedding ring Salvo's late wife promised him.
Ellie's parents, hotel magnate Bill Collins (David Rasche) and Sen. Tigger MacArthur (Kim Cattrall), are wealthy and have a country club weekend planned. Ellie's brother Lucky (Anders Holm) is an entitled screw-up and Doug (Brett Dier) is into new-age healing.
The culture clash of Salvo's working class Italian-American upbringing and the Collinses' conspicuous consumption is natural. Some of the conflicts may have indeed been based on Maniscalco's life, but the film struggles to land the joke.
Salvo counts every penny, so he asks the country club for prices on their menu items, despite Bill assuring him it's his treat, regardless. There's no real joke there, though. Salvo just makes a scene with the Collinses and waiters at lunch by harping on the price or lack thereof.
Salvo is a hairdresser, so when Tigger asks him to do her hair for a TV appearance, it creates a conflict. An angry Tigger goes on MSNBC and cannot disguise that her anger is really about the hair style.
The problem with this joke is they never establish the topic that Tigger is on MSNBC to discuss, perhaps for fear of alienating either political half of the audience. But, the joke only works if she uses a real topic to lash out about her hair.
At least Salvo tries to get along with the Collinses, even Doug and his wacky new-age accouterments. In all three Fockers movies, De Niro's character literally tries to sabotage his daughter's marriage.
While Salvo raised Sebastian with tough love, Bill and Tigger overcompensate by trying to remove any hardship from their children's lives. Both Sebastian and Ellie's parents are trying to save their kids from negative experiences that cannot be avoided in life.
Even if the parents were right, and in this movie they happen to be wrong, they still have to let their children have the learning experiences. So About My Father is decidedly less toxic than other dysfunctional family comedies, but it's just not funny.
Sebastian freaks out on a helicopter ride from the airport, but the closest thing to a joke in that scene is Salvo giving him a lemon slice to suck on. Sebastian also has a mishap with jet boots, causing a wardrobe malfunction. Fortunately, the result is not as explicit as some of De Niro's raunchier comedies.
Some jokes were clearly added in post-production, as De Niro and Bibb speak them over footage in which you can't see anyone's lips moving. The best the writers could give them to dub was Ellie calling Salvo "the Bob Barker of the backseat."
Maniscalco may have observed all of the above in his real life, and it may work as a stand-up act, but those observations didn't gel into cinematic comic set pieces. At least the family is more loving than the Fockers, let alone Ticket to Paradise, but the comedic structure is dysfunctional.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.