Pauly Shore creates a 'Son-in-Law' only a 12-year-old could love

July 02, 1993|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

Foolish me, I took two 12-year-old girls to see "Son-in-Law" in hopes that they would explain it to me, and of course they wouldn't even sit with me! And one of them was my daughter!

But in the car driving home it became clear that there was a minor generational rift as to the excellence of this particular piece of work.

Amy: "It was the BEST movie I ever saw."

Kate: "It was SO funny."

Dad: "Why don't you two ride in the trunk?"

In the film, Pauly Shore plays a somewhat disheveled upperclassman and resident dorm adviser at an unnamed California university who masterminds a soul-change in a shy Midwestern freshman girl named Rebecca (Carla Gugino) so she'll "fit in better." Then he accompanies her home for Thanksgiving to her achingly conservative Nebraska farm where his moral superiority soon enlightens her parents, uptight deadheads who actually -- ughk -- work for a living! Like, what else could be new?

Shore can be funny but it would be somewhat more amusing if he could come up with . . . a second joke. I mean, is . . . two too much to ask? His one joke is the whole movie and that is a value that might be defined simply as unflappable strangeness. He boasts a weird discordancy from his surroundings that manifests itself in a gibbering that issues from strange secret ducts in his body, an elastic-limbed physical presence that approximates Silly Putty in a blender and a giddy festooning of random ribbons and pieces of jewelry so that he looks as if he just survived a terrorist attack in a Chinese geegaw factory.

It's like he's just beamed down from the Planet of the Really Irritating.

Naturally, the more he got on my nerves, the more my daughter and her friend Kate squirmed in soul-deep delight. They laughed, they roared, they howled.

The plot holds few surprises as it runs through ancient sophisticate-on-the-farm gambits. Yes, cowpies and other forms of animal excreta are lavishly featured. Yes, boorish farmhands play mean-spirited tricks on Pauly, which he effortlessly turns to his advantage. Wherever he goes, he magically performs miracles and heals rifts. He reinvents a sex life for Rebecca's brittle parents, Lane Smith and Cindy Pickett. He impresses Rebecca's little brother (Patrick Renna, the freckle that walked like a boy) with his computer know-how. He effortlessly outsmarts then out-karates the town bully. He's Dr. Ruth, Steve Jobs and Chuck Norris in the garb of a West L.A. club comedian!

I was instructed by my tutors that this movie was actually better than "Wayne's World," and that all my objections were meaningless because "it's only a movie."

About the latter point, they were undisputably right; about the former, I disagreed but it got me nowhere. Arguing with my daughter is like arguing with Mao about communism, except that she doesn't have the power to have me shipped off for cultural re-education . . . yet.

'Son-in-Law'

Starring Pauly Shore

Directed by Steve Rash

Released by Hollywood Pictures

Rated PG-13

... **

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