The In-Laws<br></br>Daddy Day Care<br></br>Unkown Pleasures<br></br>Bad Guy

Just what is Eddie Murphy's agent up to?
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The Independent Culture

The star of The In-Laws (12A) is Michael Douglas, but it might as well be Robert De Niro, considering how much the film has in common with two De Niro comedies. A third of it is Analyse This - a curly-haired Jewish doctor is dragged into the deadly intrigues of a fearless killer. A third of it is Meet The Parents - a wedding's drawing near, and one of the future fathers-in-law works for the CIA. And whatever's left comes from the recent spate of secret agent buddy comedies - I Spy, Bad Company - right down to the obligatory scenes set in Prague. If you believe what you see in the cinema, there are currently more terrorist masterminds in the Czech capital than there are rampaging British stag parties.

The In-Laws is a remake of a 1979 film starring Peter Falk and Alan Arkin. In the new version, Albert Brooks is an everything-phobic podiatrist whose daughter is getting married in a week. He soon realises that her fiancé's dad (Douglas) isn't the photocopier salesman he claims to be - he's an undercover agent - but not soon enough to prevent himself being whisked off on an international espionage farce. Can the odd couple thwart a maniacal smuggler (David Suchet) and be back in time for the rehearsal dinner?

If you caught the start of The In-Laws on TV, you'd stick with it. Brooks is impeccable as the neurotic fall guy, while Douglas is an adroit De Niro substitute, particularly early on, when he's trying to maintain his cover.

Explaining one of his contacts to the bride's parents, he deadpans, "We did some copier-related work together in Vietnam." But the scripting is lazy.

You can see most of the jokes approaching over the horizon, and the leaky plotting is typical of the whole spy spoof genre: who dreamt up the idea that if you make a loud noise, a submarine's torpedoes will forget what their target was and come after you instead? One more sign of the film's mediocrity is its choice of musical guest star. There's a trend in Hollywood comedies for the likes of Tony Bennett and James Brown to drop by and sing a greatest hit or two. And The In-Laws? It's secured the services of KC and the Sunshine Band.

The pop luminaries in Daddy Day Care (PG) are Cheap Trick. They may not be a prestigious booking, but they're more than this feeble film deserves. Eddie Murphy, whose agent must be in the pay of his enemies, plays a sacked marketing executive who sets up a nursery school with two of his friends.

The plot is negligible and every joke involves a kid kicking an adults' shins. But the film's fundamental flaw is a premise that had me glancing at my watch to check what century it was. Last month, Bringing Down The House expected us to laugh at the crazy concept of a well-off white man befriending a working class black woman. Now the makers of Daddy Day Care assume that the very thought of anyone with a Y-chromosome looking after children is preposterous enough to have us rolling in the aisles.

Unknown Pleasures (12A) isn't as coma-inducing as Jia Zhang-Ke's last film, Platform, but it's not exactly action-packed either. A portrait of some barely-conscious, disaffected teenaged slackers mooching around a dust-coloured, derelict provincial town, it's shot on digital video so blurry I was afraid my contact lenses had fallen out. In Bad Guy (18), a Korean gangster manoeuvres a virginal student into joining his stable of prostitutes. It's a subject so grim that it needs to be handled with exceptional integrity and intelligence - if at all - but Kim Ki-Duk settles for trashy characterisation and seems to be making up the story as he goes along.

n.barber@independent.co.uk

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