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Parental Guidance

There are some movies that are so startlingly bad that you have to wonder if the stars involved were being blackmailed. It's hard to believe that Parental Guidance was someone's baby, just like it's hard to believe that Bette Midler and Billy Crystal could be a couple or Marisa Tomei would be their daughter. You know you're in for a dud when the movie kicks off with jokes about Facebook — poking! — Angry Birds and hashtags. We get it. This old dude named Artie (Crystal) is being fired from his job as a minor league baseball announcer because he's old. He's ''dead wood.'' And so is the movie he's in.

Artie and his wife Diane (Midler) rarely get a chance to see their daughter Alice (Tomei) or her family, mostly because Artie is a self-centered jerk who refuses to honor his daughter and son-in-law's child-coddling ways. No one comes out of this looking good; writers Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse never miss an opportunity to poke fun of Alice and husband Phil's (Tom Everett Scott) tofu/sugar-free/computer-automated life, while Artie is subject to countless scatological humiliations and testicle injuries. The only person who manages to come off okay is Midler, as a saucy former weathergirl who deeply craves a loving relationship with her daughter and granddaughter.

People coming to see Parental Guidance expecting an iota of the humor or intelligence that Midler or Tomei have shown in previous film performances will be sorely disappointed. Obviously, a PG-rated family movie is not the place for Midler's bawdier side — let's never forget she got her start singing in gay bathhouses, God bless her — but she's done fine in family fare like Hocus Pocus. Still, she fights the good fight against the flatness of her role, and she and Crystal share a sort of sweet scene where they do a little song and dance to ''Who Wrote the Book of Love?'' Tomei brings a touch of warmth to her role, and has a kind of sweet but bland connection with Everett Scott; their secret naughty joke where he pretends to be a British rock star named Nigel and she, presumably, is a groupie, is one of the only colorful details here.

Crystal is still trying to dine out on movies like Analyze That and his voice acting work. (The less said about his Oscar hosting duties, the better.) His humor hasn't aged well — it's subpar Borscht Belt — and he's not quite sharp enough to be a curmudgeon. It doesn't help that he's paired with a red-haired gremlin of a child who at one point climbs onto a half pipe and urinates down so that Tony Hawk's skateboard flies out from under him and lands the skater in a puddle of pee. (Seriously, didn't those video games earn about a bazillion dollars? Why, Tony, why?) Ongoing jabs at parents today and their crazy ''use your words!'' methods aren't particularly insightful or relevant, and even though Artie comes to realize that his methods weren't so hot either, you just want to shake them all and tell him they really have nothing to complain about.

There is nothing to make you believe these people give a rat's ass about each other, or, more to the point, why they should. Diane accuses Artie of making everything about himself, but in essence, the entire movie is about Artie and his learning curve, which is a lot to ask of a character based on a shtick. None of the actors are really allowed to tap into what makes them successful performers, and instead they're all stuck with being called Fartie Artie and a randomly appearing restaurateur whose specialty is pan-Asian health food and being really great friends with one of the kids' invisible kangaroo. He is played by, and I am not kidding you, Gedde Watanabe of Long Duk Dong infamy, a character that remains one of the bigger smudges on John Hughes's legacy. It's good to know that Watanabe hasn't abandoned his wheelhouse of playing offensive Asian characters, though.

There is almost nothing likable in Parental Guidance. You would be better off watching the fake fireplace channel for 12 hours straight than spending a minute with these people. Life is too short. rated this film 1/2 star.