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'Fathers' Day' Knows Best

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 9, 1997

Francis Veber, the French screenwriter and director, is sitting on one of the cushiest, recycling franchises in Hollywood. After a career’s worth of French comedies, including "La Cage Aux Folles," "Three Fugitives," "The Tall Blond Man With One Black Shoe" and "My Father, the Hero," he has watched (and assisted) as virtually all of them were re-made as American movies.

Now comes "Fathers’ Day," a remake of Veber’s "Les Comperes," in which the Frenchman (a producer on the new project) scores two of America’s most gifted comedians: Robin Williams and Billy Crystal. Together for the first time (not counting their appearance on "Comic Relief"), the comedians blend like a mini dream team.

Jack Lawrence (Crystal), an intolerant Los Angeles attorney who’s working on his third wife (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss), gets sobering news from Collette (Natassja Kinski), a former girlfriend. It seems their liaison of 17 years ago bore fruit. His name is Scott, he’s now 16, and he’s run away from home. Handing Jack a photograph of Scott, she implores the lawyer to find him.

"I don’t find people," he retorts at first, "I sue them." But he’s intrigued at the possibility of fatherhood. And when a business trip takes him to San Francisco, where the boy was last spotted, he decides to make a few inquiries.

Meanwhile, Collette springs exactly the same fatherhood news (and photo) on Dale Putley (Williams), a despairing writer and another old flame. Dale, who has no life to speak of (he had a loaded gun in his mouth when Collette rang him up), throws himself wholeheartedly into the mission.

Inevitably, the aspiring fathers bump into each other, compare notes and squabble over paternity rights. When they confront Collette, she tells them she’s unsure which one is the real Dad. Jack’s an impatient, go-getter, the adult of the two. Dale’s a crybaby who weeps when he misses a highway exit. But they patch their differences and continue the search together.

After locating Scott (Charlie Hofheimer), however, the new partners learn the kid’s not the most cooperative ward in the universe. He’s also in big trouble with drug dealers.

As with "Les Comperes," which starred Gerard Depardieu and Pierre Richard, the movie’s a battery of broad slapstick, repartee and comedic interplay. Crystal’s deadpan expressions and one liners interlock perfectly with Williams’s multiple personalities and verbal asides. They’re like basketball all-stars flipping no-look passes, trading slam-dunks and practically chest-bumping each other. Director Ivan Reitman doesn’t have to do more than keep time.

Speaking of sports, when Dale (who doesn’t keep up with the real world too much) claims not to know Lou Gehrig, Jack is astonished. "Everybody knows Lou Gehrig," he says. "The baseball player. He died of Lou Gehrig’s Disease."

Dale is flabbergasted: "I wonder what the odds were on that."

It’s hard to imagine this thing’s going to miss. For the comic actors, this project -- an enjoyable synthesis of improvisation and adherence to the original story -- seems almost too easy. You wonder why it took them so long.

FATHER’S DAY (PG-13) — Contains a lewd gag or two, mild profanity and headbutting.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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