You really can make a bad family movie less terrible. The people responsible for “Parental Guidance” have done an honorable enough job, chiefly through casting. No, I don’t understand how the combination of Bette Midler and Billy Crystal produces Marisa Tomei for a daughter, but here it does. They happen to be the right actors for a movie that asks one character to be whacked in the crotch and another to have a cake land on her head. It’s not dignity you need them to have. It’s a fear of embarrassment. It’s: “I’ll do anything for this movie, but I won’t do that.”
You feel that Midler, Crystal, and Tomei, along with Tom Everett Scott, who plays Tomei’s husband, and the three kids who play their children, sat down with the director (Andy Fickman) and writers (Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse) and demanded a degree of decorum. Midler gets to do a lot of her big faces and Crystal indulges certain sports fantasies and runs around like a lunatic a couple of times, but they won’t give material this mediocre the satisfaction of total self-humiliation. They do a lot of underplaying.