'My Father, The Hero' needs parental guidance

February 05, 1994|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

I know what caused the Great Los Angeles earthquake.

That Sunday night, the Touchstone Division of the Disney empire must have held a screening of "My Father, the Hero."

And the body of Walt Disney turned over in its grave so violently that . . . OH MY GOD! 6.5 ON THE RICHTER SCALE!

In fact, the only thing that keeps the movie at all watchable is a great shambling performance by Gerard Depardieu, who is so shaggy-lovable he deserves an Oscar for most distinguished performance in the least distinguished movie.

Depardieu plays Andre, a cosmopolitan French divorcee who takes his 14-year-old daughter to Nassau for 10 days. The hulking Frenchman is brilliant at conveying one of the most delicate of all emotional nuances, which is the undistilled essence of love a man can feel toward his daughter, made just a touch awkward by the fact that she is budding into womanhood.

The daughter, Nikki, well played by Katherine Heigl, seems everything a girl of that age is known to be -- awkward, lovely, headstrong, insolent and utterly embarrassed by the crude, dim brute who is her father. This is a well-recognized phenomenon, ++ take it from another crude, dim brute who constantly humiliates his daughter by actually existing.

Anyway, it is from this reality that the movie takes off: the young woman, attracted to a young man at the resort, is too humiliated to admit she's with dad, so she spins the story that the older man is really her lover and she is the glamorous seed of a spectacularly dysfunctional family whose real mother is a prostitute and whose real father is in prison.

But the movie never grounds this absurdity in her personality; it seems to come from nowhere, and though it originally yields some mild confused-situation humor (as when Depardieu, blind to the deception, performs "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" for a scandalized audience), it soon reaches a stage of static ickiness.

Originally a French film now remade by the studio that has had so much luck with such remakes ("Three Men and a Baby," for example), this American version is entirely two-faced. It enjoys presenting Heigl's nubile body for delectation of the audience, yet primly pretends to be puritanical. It never really faces the source of all the giggles. There's the complete queasiness the situation engenders, as it sites itself titteringly in the country of taboo and profits from evoking the aura while pretending not to acknowledge it.

But what is most obnoxious about the film is its values. One can certainly understand how a teen-age girl could spin a lie to impress a boy, and how that lie, by the laws of farce, could grow and grow and grow. But there comes a time when she should have to pay a price, and the man who should have the guts to bring her to that moment should be her father.

Not here. Indeed, poor Depardieu is made to share in her perfidy until the two of them seem more like desperate con artists than father and daughter.

The movie isn't helped either by bland supporting performances: as Ben, the boy of dreams, Dalton James looks like the young C. Thomas Howell, and since you can't remember the old C. Thomas Howell you get what I'm saying. Stephen Toblowsky repeats an inanely familiar schtick as a nerdy tourist that has become his whole screen personality.

MOVIE REVIEW

"My Father, The Hero"

Starring Gerard Depardieu and Katherine Heigl

Directed by Steve Miner

Released by Touchstone

Rated PG

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