Reel Opinions

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Yours, Mine, and Ours

As an unofficial film critic, I feel it is my duty to be as open minded about a movie as possible. As strong as my pre-conceived notions can sometimes be, I try to keep them in check when walking into a theater. If I'm walking into what I'm certain will be a turkey, I try to focus on the positives while I'm watching it. I never want to hate the movie I'm about to watch. I always hope and pray that it's just the victim of bad buzz or a bad ad campaign. Sometimes it's harder to do than others. Case in point: Yours, Mine, and Ours. From the first trailer I saw last summer, I pretty much knew what I was in for. As the four different studio logos flashed upon the screen (yes, 4 different studios had a hand in making this thing), I settled in my seat, and decided if I had to be here, I would do my best to pick out the positives and enjoy myself as much as I could. It was a valiant battle to be sure, but in the end, I can honestly say I found a lot more to be positive about than in some other similar films in the genre I've watched this past year. Not as hateful as Are We There Yet, or as pathetic as Rebound, Yours, Mine, and Ours will have to settle for being brainless with 2 or 3 moments that actually made me smile. That right there is high praise for this kind of film.

Frank Beardsley (Dennis Quaid) and Helen North (Rene Russo) were high school sweethearts who had dreams of marriage, but went their separate ways after graduation. They both went on to very different lives. Frank became a strict, yet caring, by the book Coast Guard Admiral, while Helen became a creative "free spirit" designing handbags and other kinds of clothing. Both got married, and ended up with large families. Frank has 8 children, while Helen has 4 of her own and 6 from different countries that her husband and her adopted over the years. As the film opens, both Frank and Helen are raising their individual families on their own after their spouses recently passed away. We get a good look at both of their lives early on. While Frank runs an orderly and schedule-driven home, Helen's house looks more like an apocalyptic day care center with 10 different children running around, screaming and destroying everything, complete with every animal under the sun, from pigs to hamsters, running wild. I kept on wondering during the film's opening moments why Helen had not been reported to the proper authorities, as it seems she does not give a damn about the well-being of her children judging by the early scenes. She calls it being a "free spirit, and letting children be creative". I call it neglect and poor judgement.

The two are reunited at their 30-year high school reunion, and sparks are immediately rekindled. These fleeting moments are actually kind of sweet, and fooled me into thinking that maybe the filmmakers were going to treat this story with respect. No such luck, for Frank and Helen are immediately married (seemingly right after their meeting at the reunion) and decide to join their two families together and movie into a giant abandoned lighthouse building. The kids on both sides are not happy about this arrangement, especially with the suddenness of it all. Almost immediately, both groups of kids begin to turn against each other, pulling pranks and abusing each other every chance they get. Eventually, they decide to form a truce, and conclude the only way they will return to their old lives is if their parents divorce. So, the kids start coming up with schemes to split up Frank and Helen by playing on each individual's quirks (Frank being a control freak and Helen being chaotic and "creative"). But, gosh darn it, wouldn't you know it, their efforts to break the family apart bring the kids closer together for reasons unexplained by the film. (Their change of heart toward each other and their situation seems as sudden as their parents' marriage.) And maybe if the characters weren't as shallow as a droplet of water, we'd care about their efforts to be one big happy family.

Yours, Mine, and Ours is yet another movie that makes the grave miscalculation that kids being out of control, hurtful monsters is funny. The 18 different kids vary in age from roughly 17 to 2, but quite honestly, they all act like they're 5 years old. It's impossible to care about the children, because not only are they cruel and hurtful to each other and their parents, but they also have no characteristics whatsoever. You know your script is underwritten when your deeper characters is a jive-talking black kid, and a Japanese girl who does nothing but video tape everything on a mini video camera. That's what passes for well-developed in this movie. Why filmmakers think kids raising hell and screaming at the top of their lungs is hilarious, I have no idea. Shamefully, a number of the kids I recognized as being very talented from other projects. (Most of the kids are featured on Nickelodeon TV shows, since the channel's movie division helped produce this film.) Too bad they're given nothing to do but stand in the background and break stuff.

As if to 18 out of control children weren't enough, director Raja Gosnell (the Scooby Doo films, Home Alone 3) found yet another way to make any parent regret coming along with their kids to see this film. Reflecting back on his Home Alone days, there are a number of pointless scenes where Dennis Quaid's character is forced to be humiliated with embarrassing slapstick that seems completely out of place. The filmmakers never miss a chance to make sure Dennis Quaid falls face-first into a conveniently placed pool of green slime-like goop on the floor, get knocked on the head by objects that would normally kill a man (but it's got a corny cartoon "bonk" sound effect, so it's funny), or get a long tongue bath from a pig before the guy realizes it's not his wife who's doing it. These moments seem to come out of nowhere, as for most of the film, Quaid's character usually seems pretty smart and likable. His IQ seems to drop whenever the screenwriters find it convenient. Something tells me if Mr. Quaid is ever honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award, this film won't be on the highlight reel. And that's too bad, because when he's not around the kids or being reduced to kiddie-style slapstick, he's an anchor that keeps this film from completely sinking.

It was the moments that did not concentrate on the family that made me smile the most. The early scenes between Quaid and Russo when they meet at the reunion have an undeniable sweetness that is missing from the rest of this mess. Pity that their relationship never seems to be fully developed, I could have liked them even more. They meet at the reunion, we get a couple quiet, cute scenes with them, then before we know it, they announce to the kids that they're married, and the next scene, they're moving the family into the house. The film is in such a rush to get to the kids raising hell that it completely forgets about the stuff that actually works, and breezes right by it in a span of 3 minutes. Much like how Quaid's character seems to get dumber when the kids are around, Russo's character seems to be smarter during the fleeting moments they're alone. It is during these scenes that we actually get a glimpse of what they could see in each other. Whenever the kids are around, Russo's character seems forgiving to the point of idiocy. I seriously wanted to slap her.

Aside from a few fleeting laughs (most of which are delivered by the always reliable Linda Hunt as the family's particularly oblivious housekeeper), Yours, Mine, and Ours pretty much is everything you expect from the trailers and nothing more. If there was just one intelligent character in the whole group, just one character who stood up and said, "Wait a minute, why are we all acting like this", I would have given the screenwriters my personal thanks. But, the film simply wants to be your average loud and incoherent kid's flick and waste a lot of talent. It's not the worst of the lot, but that doesn't excuse it. The film is just lucky its come along in a bad year for movies. It at least has the decency to end fairly quickly with a mercifully brief 88 minute running time. See what I mean about looking for the positives?

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