Attendees of this year’s Cannes Film Festival in France got to see the world premiere of Martin Scorsese’s latest collaboration with Robert De Niro, “Killers of the Flower Moon.” We lowly peasants on the other side of the pond get the actor’s other film, “About My Father,” the umpteenth unfunny retread of “Meet the Parents.” At least it’s a mercifully short 89 minutes.
Co-written by its star, Sebastian Maniscalco, whom the trailer tells us is “the hottest comic in America” according to The New York Times, “About My Father” is based on the real-life relationship between Maniscalco and his father, Salvo. Getting Robert De Niro to play your dad should earn major brownie points with the paterfamilias. Putting him in this unoriginal movie should get you a few whacks with a wooden spoon.
Believe it or not, this isn’t Maniscalco’s first film with De Niro. We last saw them in Scorsese’s excellent 2019 epic, “The Irishman.” A digitally de-aged Bobby D pumped Maniscalco full of lead on the curb outside Little Italy’s Umberto’s Clam House, a reenactment of the real-life hit on Colombo crime family capo “Crazy Joe” Gallo. The scene is quite brutal and, in keeping with Scorsese’s penchant for gallows humor, darkly comic.
The only thing De Niro whacks in “About My Father” is a beloved peacock. It roams the grounds of the rich, WASPy family Sebastian intends to marry into, provided his Italian immigrant hairstylist dad doesn’t ruin things. Sebastian’s inamorata, Ellie (Leslie Bibb), is the only daughter of hotel magnate William Collins XII (David Rasche) and his US senator wife, Tigger (Kim Cattrall); and, yes, Tigger is her government name.
Ellie’s other family members include her obnoxious eldest brother, William Collins XIII (Anders Holm), nicknamed Lucky for obvious reasons, and her other brother, Doug (Brett Dier). Doug is the standard oddball character movies of this type are required to have; he’s a “healer” who uses all manner of weird spiritual techniques to relax people. Salvo calls him a Commie. “I’m a socialist,” Doug replies.
By comparison, the only family member Sebastian has is Salvo, who’s upset when his son wants to spend the upcoming Fourth of July holiday with the Collinses instead of in Chicago with him. So, Ellie suggests that Sebastian invite his father to come along. Let the culture clash begin!
In voice-over narration, Maniscalco compares his family’s humble immigrant journey from Sicily to America via Ellis Island with Ellie’s family’s journey on “a little ship called The Mayflower.” These are hardly comparable immigrant stories, and I noticed how, perhaps unintentionally, “About My Father” plays up Ellie’s family as if they represent the ideal American story.
Even in films where everyone’s white, the scales of desirability and importance tend to lean toward the prettier, blond people. Sebastian clearly loves and respects his hard-working, blue-collar father, but this film forces Salvo to try bending to the whims of these shallow country-club dwellers.
But I digress. You want to hear about that whacked peacock. The bird is like a member of the family, in fact. In a nod to Vincent Price’s classic 1973 film, “Theatre of Blood,” Salvo cooks the family’s pet and feeds it to them. It was funnier when Price did the same thing to Robert Morley — and meaner.
That’s the problem with “About My Father.” As you watch it, your mind wanders to places where you saw a particular scene or scenario done better. Sometimes, that other scenario features the same actor. Maniscalco’s quip-heavy narration evokes Rodney Dangerfield, whose film “Caddyshack” was a funnier example of the “snobs-vs-slobs” comedy genre this film emulates.
I admire Maniscalco’s decision to make his character the butt of the jokes, literally and figuratively. If only the jokes were funny. He has zero romantic chemistry with Bibb, who appears to be acting in another movie entirely, but he and De Niro make a credible father and son. Their scenes have a poignancy I wish the film trusted more.
The trailer already shows you everything that might be remotely funny, including the film’s one big laugh. If you want to save money, just watch that.
ABOUT MY FATHER
Directed by Laura Terruso. Written by Austen Earl and Sebastian Maniscalco. Starring Robert De Niro, Maniscalco, Kim Cattrall, Leslie Bibb, David Rasche, Brett Dier, Anders Holm. 89 minutes. At AMC Boston Common, suburbs. PG-13 (dead peacock; live, nude comic)
Odie Henderson is the Boston Globe's film critic.