This review took ten days to write, that’s how little I cared about it after I was done watching.
“I value my reputation the most.”
I don’t like comparing one movie to another; even in the case of remakes I at least try to see the movie on its own terms. Sometimes a movie refuses to let this happen: the 2016 Ghostbusters is a good example of a film that doesn’t know how much of its predecessor to borrow from, and ultimately spends its runtime flipflopping stupidly between both worlds. The Ben Stiller/Robert De Niro comedy Meet the Parents isn’t really a movie I’d expect to use as the basis for any kind of comparison (except, I suppose, its two sequels), but 2012’s Meet the In-Laws makes association almost inevitable.
It revolves around psychologist Fan Jianqiang (Xu Zheng) who is nervous about meeting his girlfriend Su Xi (Lin Peng)’s parents for the first time. His girlfriend tries to reassure him that her father is nothing like his patients and they will get along famously. Things take a turn for the worst when Fan learns that his soon-to-be father-in-law Bohu (Benz Hui) is actually one of his patients, and he knows all of his secrets. What follows is your traditional in-laws-style comedy, with countless misunderstandings, the father-in-law sleeping in the same bed as Fan to prevent any untoward behaviour, a lost family pet, and so on. The dad is a hard-ass, the mum is a bit loopy, and there’s likely a carbon monoxide leak somewhere. On top of it all are countless needless subplots, none of them are particularly engaging.
The first thing you notice when watching this film is that the editing is all over the place. I have to give people props for trying something new, but it became clear later on that the stylistic editing wasn’t there to emphasise the movie’s identity, but rather to mask the fact that it didn’t have one at all. It’s so similar to Meet the Parents that it tries to overcompensate with ridiculous situations and ends up looking like a strange, Chinese-language Wayans bros parody film. And it’s a shame because the zaniness seems like a boon at the very beginning, but the feeling doesn’t last long.
Maybe this is because the characters all so dumb and unlikeable. Yeah, they all have their moments throughout, but those good moments are few and far between. Benz Hui is the definite show-stealer here, and puts all his energy into the role. His father-in-law character is fine, and played by a lesser actor would be insufferable. There are moments where it’s all a bit over the top, but Hui sells the hell out of it with a really good performance, allowing the guy moments of depth which are great, if somewhat out of place in such a goofy film.
And Hui’s character is probably also the biggest problem in the film. Everything he does is ludicrous, and when everyone reacts stupidly to those moments, we get a film where every conflict is extremely manufactured, and character choices are never made entirely clear. For example, the fiancée character (whose name I’ve already forgotten despite having written it two minutes ago) is pretty level headed, but then she’ll go off the rails and jump to stupid conclusions just to keep the “comedy” going. Meet the Parents is a lot better, which is not really the phrase I thought I’d use all that often but here we are.
Meet the In-Laws (the Chinese title being the much more entertaining Pacify Mr Father-in-Law) is, like The Force Awakens, an exercise in missed potential. Making the lead character a psychologist who knows all of his father-in-law’s secrets could make for an excellent dynamic, with the position of power switching between characters throughout, but instead it goes the “safe” route and makes Fan no different to Stiller’s Greg Focker. Sure it has its moments, but after a while you’ll find yourself checking your phone, and you’ll clock out long before the movie even finishes. This is one set of in-laws you could probably do with not meeting.
Verdict: It left so little impact on me, I can’t be bothered to write a good verdict.
Overall scores: 5/10
Things stolen from meet the Parents: I was going to tally it, but couldn’t be bothered
Organic conflict: not as much as the premise should allow for
Manufactured conflict: Plenty!
Red panties gag: Took an hour to pay off. Wasn’t that good.
Thief subplot: Completely out of nowhere. Really dumb.
Meet the In-Laws (2012)
Also known as: 搞定岳父大人 (Pacify Mr. Father-in-Law)
Writer: Hai-shu Li
Director: Yanwei Huang, Hai-shu Li
Fan – Xu Zheng
Su “Susie” Xi – Lin Peng
Su Bohu – Benz Hui
Susie’s mother – Li Fengxu
Wu – Guo Minxiang
Dou Dou – Zhu Lin
Man into Holes – Ren Long
Da Li – Feng Li
Mo Lan – Liu Jie
Policeman – Han Zhi