The In-Laws

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I hope Albert Brooks is happy knowing that when he appears in mediocre films like “The In-Laws,” he is coming off as the brightest spot in them. Of course, he shines in good movies, too, but the light is even more radiant when all that surrounds him is dross.

I don’t mean his co-stars. They are a charismatic bunch. Michael Douglas, as a rogue CIA agent whose son is about to marry Brooks’ daughter, has his characteristic easy charm; Ryan Reynolds (“National Lampoon’s Van Wilder”) and Lindsay Sloane as the young couple are feisty and talented; Candace Bergen even shows up and earns a few chuckles as the CIA agent’s bitter ex-wife. And Brooks, of course, has that soft, sarcastic whine that is both pleasing and amusing, like taking a warm bath with a clown, or something.

Their material, however, is second-rate. Based on the 1979 comedy, the rewritten screenplay by Nat Mauldin (“Dr. Dolittle”) and Ed Solomon (“Charlie’s Angels”) offers the watered-down pablum that Hollywood cranks out by the fistful. Characters are forced into unlikely situations and then react unrealistically to them, eliminating any chance of humor.

And then there is Albert Brooks, who manages to rise above it and brings a few laughs. His understated delivery, his gentle neuroses, his expert comedy timing — these are pivotal resources in any film, but especially one as weak as this. It is not reason enough to see it, really, but it’s enough that if you are somehow forced into it, you will be able to survive. Brooks is a life preserver in a sea of C-grade belabored wackiness.

C (1 hr., 35 min; PG-13, scattered profanity, some bawdy humor.)

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