“Father Figures” is a movie, ostensibly. I’m pretty sure it is. Moving images were projected, along with recorded sound, which indicates it is a movie, but the effect was so listless, low-energy and profoundly unentertaining that I jotted down in my notes “what even IS this?” It would be more accurate to describe the experience as a nearly two-hour borderline hostage situation, with torture involving bad, offensive and unfunny “comedy.”
The protagonists are brothers Peter (Ed Helms) and Kyle (Owen Wilson), who are “twins.” Sure. Peter is a divorced doctor, with a kid who hates him, and a personal life that consists predominantly of “Law & Order: SVU” reruns. He’s deeply envious of Kyle, a beach bum who has made millions licensing his likeness to a barbecue sauce company.
At the wedding of their mother, Helen (Glenn Close), Peter, desperately unhappy with the banality of his cushy upper-middle class life, self-soothes with an episode of “SVU,” when he becomes convinced one of the actors is their long-lost father. He’s not, but it triggers a round of questioning about his parentage, which sets the brothers on a cross-country road trip.
First, they head to Miami to find football star Terry Bradshaw, the name Helen initially throws out. But it soon becomes a wild goose chase up the Eastern seaboard dubbed “Operation Who’s Your Daddy,” as the bros dig up Helen’s exes from the last days of disco.
Cinematographer Lawrence Sher makes his directorial debut with the film, which is about as captivating as a flaccid noodle. Awkward bits of brotherly rivalry or ribaldry go on for far, far, painfully too long, and all the energy is strangely subdued and muted. All momentum is sapped from the film, which requires extreme amounts of patience to endure.
But the true offense comes from the blinkered and completely tone-deaf script by Justin Malen. That it’s not funny and makes no sense would be bad enough, but there’s a virulent strain of sexism, too. Every woman the brothers encounter is evaluated for her sexual potential, not anything else. Their own mother, played by the legendary Close, is reduced to a running joke that involves the exes repeatedly describing the sexual skills of their mother.
Tack on a wildly misguided and totally random scene wherein the brothers pick up a hitchhiker, played by Katt Williams, and things go from bad to worse. Uptight Peter worries about the safety of picking up a stranger, insists he isn’t suspicious because the potential rider is black, and Kyle demands to know if he’s a serial killer. They give him a ride — tied up with jump ropes in the backseat. The brothers then bicker over how many girls they each hooked up with in high school and how much money they make. How could anyone involved in this project possibly think this was a good idea?
There’s an entire sub-genre of films now where Helms is the vessel for expressing a collective white male anxiety about masculinity, but played for laughs, because why face issues head on? Those stories deserve to be told, but not at the expense of others, and the limited, privileged worldview of “Father Figures,” which is laced with a cutesy, insidious streak of sexism, homophobia and racism makes for a bromantic comedy that illustrates how exclusion will be Hollywood’s downfall.