- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 22, 2005

Watching Peter Falk’s crusty Columbo character is a singular joy, no doubt.

Every time the actor dons that rumpled trench coat, however, it means less time left for big-screen roles.

The loss in that tradeoff runs right through “The Thing About My Folks,” a cross-generational buddy film starring Mr. Falk and “Mad About You” alum Paul Reiser.

The sitcom star wrote the film specifically with Mr. Falk in mind, and it’s hard to imagine a better showcase for the 78-year-old actor.

What might have been an exercise in schmaltz — father and son hit the road and unload years of guilt along the way — becomes a wry character study that only falters in the final reel.

Mr. Reiser is Ben Kleinman, a successful writer and father of two who gets an unannounced visit from his father, Sam (Mr. Falk). Ben’s mother has just walked out on Sam, leaving behind only a vague note.

Instead of falling apart, Sam takes the news in stride. Ben and his three sisters aren’t so composed. In between the hand-wringing, Ben’s wife, Rachel (an under-used Elizabeth Perkins), suggests that father and son drive into the country together. Ben wants to check out a farmhouse for sale, anyway, and Sam could use a distraction.

Before you can say road trip, the two are off on a series of misadventures sure to sound trite on the page. They get in a bar fight, make (innocent) time with a knockout mother-and-daughter duo and go fishing.

Yet Mr. Reiser’s script, dense with dialogue and generational deconstructions, grounds each sequence with reflections about aging and evolving parental philosophies. The comic actor could have relied on cutesy sight gags and let Mr. Falk’s presence smooth away any rough patches.

Instead, his story packs unexpected treasures, such as a scene in which Ben and Sam get so worked up by their own bar banter that they chase away the aforementioned mother-daughter tandem.

Better still is watching Mr. Falk’s Sam react to a long-lost letter from his wife threatening to leave him. He doesn’t just get angry. He gets outraged, but Mr. Falk manages to convey both moral righteousness and a wounded sense of self. Nor does his Sam disintegrate into a collection of grumpy-old-man sound bites. When Sam ogles the young woman who later befriends him and his son, it’s done with restraint.

Mr. Reiser often excels when drawing on his personal life. He scored with two nonfiction books based on being a husband (“Couplehood”) and father (“Babyhood”). With “The Thing About My Folks,” he let the tale of his own parents’ courtship inspire him, and until “Folks” lumbers toward its obvious conclusion, it’s clearly a muse worth following.


TITLE: “The Thing About My Folks”

RATING: PG-13 (Flatulence humor, comic violence and adult language)

CREDITS: Directed by Raymond De Felitta. Written by Paul Reiser.

RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes

WEB SITE: www.myfolksmovie.



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