Spying a winner


The In-Laws
Opening tomorrow at area theaters
Three reels out of four

If film comedians were watches, Albert Brooks would be a lime-green Rolex with a hot pink band. If you can get beyond the annoying exterior, you would find quality and timing second to none.

In The In-Laws — Andrew Fleming’s competent if not brilliant remake of the 1979 Peter Falk-Alan Arkin movie — Brooks once again shows he is a modern master of both the slow burn and the annoyed aside. Costar Michael Douglas perfectly complements Brooks with a witty impression of, who else, Michael Douglas.

Douglas plays Steve Tobias, a veteran FBI agent who not only likes risk, he thrives on it. Brooks plays Jerry Peyser, a podiatrist so set in his ways, he freaks out at the slightest hint of change. The two men meet for the first time when their children plan to marry. Because Steve is deep undercover, Dr. Peyser suspects him of being an international smuggler. When Tobias is forced to take Peyser to France with him, it jeopardizes not only the mission, but their kids’ happiness. Eventually, things work out and the two become great friends. Well, sorta.

Genre hybrids like the spy comedy are always a dicey affair. A delicate balance must be achieved so that neither element seems out of place. Last year’s two most notable attempts at the combo, I Spy and Bad Company, failed miserably. The former relied on a hackneyed action plot, bad jokes and even worse chemistry between Owen Wilson and Eddie Murphy. The latter buried an occasionally brilliant performance by Chris Rock underneath Joel Schumacher’s leaden direction and an equally hackneyed post-Cold War plot.

The orginal In-Laws pulled off a particularly unique trick in that it is really a spy/wedding comedy, perhaps one of the only ones in film history (now one of two). Although I’ve never seen the original, I’ve heard it’s hilarious thanks in large part to the performances of Arkin and Falk.

Much the same could be said of Douglas and Brooks. They work so well together, you’d think they were either dear friends or mortal enemies. The interplay between Brooks’ fussy doctor and Douglas’ man of action is so delicious that it practically carries the rest of the movie.

But fortunately, it doesn’t have to. Douglas and Brooks are backed by an excellent ensemble cast that performs as if they’ve been working together for years. The FBI agents chasing Douglas play it totally straight. Candice Bergen is flat-out hilarious as Mrs. Tobias. And veteran character actor David Suchet, as an international arms dealer, goes for somewhere in between.

The Pianist
Available Tuesday

The only thing not surprising about the three Oscars awarded The Pianist two months ago was that the film deserved every one of them. Adrien Brody might be remembered forever as the guy with the stones to plant a wet, sloppy one on Halle Berry (and, may I add, totally get away with it), but no one who sees this powerful movie will forget the actor’s brave lead performance nor the film itself. The Pianist tells the true story of Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Polish Jewish classical pianist who managed to survive the Warsaw Ghetto and elude the Nazis.