Jim Vorel and Kenneth Lowe are connoisseurs of terrible movies. In this occasional series, they watch and then discuss the fallout of a particularly painful film. Be wary of spoilers.
Jim: Greetings, Ken. As we roll into 2019, it’s easy to feel apprehensive that things are changing at a rapid pace beyond our control. Is it not comforting on some level, then, to affirm that the movies we’re watching for this feature are just as bad as they’ve ever been? And possibly more mundane than ever?
Ken: “Mundane” is an understatement when it comes to Getting Even with Dad, sir. I had to put on a second pot of coffee to get through the back half of this one. What possessed you to inflict this movie upon us?
Jim: I sincerely apologize for choosing this one, Ken, because it was just incredibly boring. I chose it because we happen to be in a uniquely odd moment in the pop cultural landscape that has suddenly seen the resurgence of both
A. Macaulay Culkin, and
B. Ted Danson as viable actors.
Culkin has reappeared on YouTube in the last few months, going on what seems to be an all-out media blitz with appearances on web series such as Red Letter Media,AVGN and even a Google Christmas commercial that did somewhere around 40 million views. Danson, meanwhile, is more relevant now than he has been at any point since Cheers, thanks to his incredible, evolving performance on The Good Place. If there was ever a time to reexamine a Culkin/Danson buddy feature, this was it. After actually watching the thing, though, I’m having an easier time understanding why this is 3 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.
Ken: And yet I can’t remember hearing a peep about this earnestly Ken-targeted romp back in 1994. I can only conclude that you have once again employed your insidious chrono-sorcery to go back in time and engineer this debacle, just like smug friends of mine did with Stand By Me.
Jim: I honestly think everyone agreed to ignore this film when it was released, and it immediately disappeared to the bottom corner of Blockbuster Video VHS shelves, never to be noticed again.
Ken: You’re probably right, for the simple reason that not even a mean parody of the 1990s would be as ’90s as this movie. Nothing dates a work of art as surely as the clothes and hair. Right from the get-go, and throughout, we’re jarringly reminded what decade this was filmed during. But why don’t you set the scene for us, and explain why we’re enduring these mullets and sleeveless plaid shirts?
Jim: Alright. Ted Danson is “Ray,” the leader of a trio of ex-cons whose MO is that they’re not very good thieves. He’s rocking the classic Danson Cheers pompadour, except augmented with a ponytail at the same time. When he lets his hair down, it cascades down his shoulders in a glorious mane. Macaulay, meanwhile, is Ray’s estranged son “Timmy,” the most generic of all kids movie monikers, who is unceremoniously dumped on his father by his guardian, just as Dad is plotting the potential score of a lifetime. Mac is working with hair that I can only describe as the bastard offspring of a bowl cut and mullet. His hair writhes and morphs from scene to scene, and you never quite get a complete understanding of its structure.
It’s a bit like watching a Pokemon evolve.
I do assume that you were looking for detailed hair analysis when you asked me to set the scene.
Ken: No deep dive into this thing would be complete without it. I just want to point out that Timmy must have been traveling with a five-gallon jug of product to maintain bangs like that the whole movie.
I want to point out, too, that this movie has a lot of names in it. Saul Rubinek, the fast-talking criminal in this, has been in stuff where he’s had to give actual performances. Hector Elizondo is the gruff cop out to bust Danson’s crew. The inevitable love interest is Glenne Headly. Yet they are all in service to a meandering movie that seems composed of about 60 percent B-roll.
Jim: Hector Elizondo was my favorite, because they did that extremely cliched “gruff police chief who’s constantly chewing on pills” trope with him. Except they sort of looked like vitamin bottles? Isn’t it traditionally antacids or something?
Ken: He picked the wrong day to quit Prevacid.
Jim: Tell us about the thieves’ master plan, Ken.
Ken: It seems an old lady has died and her huge collection of antique coins has been seized by the feds, who are going to auction it off for an estimated $1.5 million. Danson and his boys plan to snatch and fence this trove, but for reasons I couldn’t figure out with the sound on my flatscreen TV cranked to 50 in an empty house, are only counting on $250,000 each for it split three ways. This figure keeps getting thrown around, too, and the line where the total is halved eluded me time and again. Whatever. Danson and his guys pull off the heist itself without any stumbles, but Culkin (who makes sure to tell us he’s in the 95th percentile of intelligence for his age group) picks up on Danson’s plan and uses a camcorder and eavesdropping to acquire enough dirt to send his own absentee father away for life if he decides to rat him out. He then hides the coins and blackmails his dad into taking him on a weeklong vacation in San Francisco.
This takes FOREVER to get rolling, I should add.
Jim: An incredibly concise synopsis, Ken. My two cents on the monetary figure: I think half of the score goes to their fence (which seems like a lot) and so Danson and his three conspirators will split the other half. I just couldn’t stop laughing at the idea of $250,000 being “a fortune” in modern day terms, considering that this is set in San Francisco. If this was 2019, their score would buy them six months of rent.
Ken: And for no greater risk than facing a federal court to boot. Great plan.
Jim: But yes, the meat and potatoes of the movie is simply Ted Danson and his cronies doing fun, fatherly activities with Macaulay. Baseball games, museum visits, miniature golfing, theme parks, zoos. It also goes on FOREVER.
Ultimately, this is the root of what is wrong with Getting Even with Dad—the movie has no idea what it’s supposed to be. The Amazon Prime description calls it an “exuberantly zany” comedy, but for the first half hour, all of the heist stuff is played almost completely straight. There’s almost no jokes until the middle portions, when Mac is forcing them to take him on excursions, but then those jokes stop again in the last half hour, when it goes back to being a heist movie/family drama. The jokes are so few and far between that when they do arrive, they seem completely out of place.
Ken: No kidding. At one point, Rubinek, who hates being dragged along on these wish-fulfillment sessions, is in a museum and it does the watery-dissolve thing and he envisions Culkin being eaten by the predators in the exhibit, like in a Looney Tunes short.
Rare footage of Macaulay Culkin at the watering hole.
Jim: I laughed out loud at Culkin perched in that exhibit—you go through 45 minutes of sedentary non-comedy, and then something like that hits you. Did you notice a few minutes later at the amusement park, when they did a horrifying prosthetic stretched face effect on Mac and Danson while they were riding a roller coaster? It’s only on screen for a few seconds, so you could easily have missed it, but look at this shit.
Ken: I actually did notice that and wondered how many scriptwriters and directors there were on this thing and whether they were passive aggressively trying to sabotage one another’s work. But of course, we haven’t even gotten to the other big conceit of the plot. Maybe you can tell us about the undercover G-woman who finally enters the plot an hour into the film.
Jim: I don’t even know what to say about that woman, Ken. She’s some kind of junior detective, who is mentioned as being “on probation,” but she acts like she’s never done any kind of “detecting” before. She simply follows a tip from a wino who overheard Danson and Co. arguing about the missing coins, and then immediately gets wrapped up in Danson’s love life. There seems to be no reason for her to be in the film, beyond the fact that he needed someone to romance.
Standard detective beret and all. Also: I just noticed that the chief has a display case of ninja weapons in his office.
Ken: Well, as we all know, Jim, this was 1994, before single parenthood was invented. So we can’t very well end the movie without everything wrapped up nice and tight and Danson having a maternal figure to help him raise his kid, can we? The worst part about this is how obvious this is and how early we see it coming, yet how long it takes to actually come up. By this point in the movie we’ve already faffed around the Bay for an hour, and Rubinek and his dumb partner have wandered off for an entirely pratfall-centric B plot where they’re trying to find the coins behind Culkin’s back but just end up taking spills.
Jim: That’s the point at which it starts reminding me of Baby’s Day Out, if only for 20 minutes or so.
It’s notable to point out that Macaulay is really kind of oddly secondary in this film. It’s really about Danson’s character—his desires to own a bakery (really), his troubled past in crime, his love life. Culkin kind of just drifts in and out of it, but he never really feels like an equal co-lead. He’s just sort of coasting and using up the scraps of leftover charisma that were left on the cutting room floor after Home Alone 2.
Ken: Can we discuss that? Macaulay Culkin really has never struck me as the cute and cuddly type child actor, but more the weird and snarky kind. He is utterly left floundering in a film like this, which requires him at various points to be maudlin and emotional. He’s great when he’s being Bart Simpson, but there’s very little of that in this movie. Every scene where these two actors need to play off each other, Danson is doing all the heavy lifting. I know I’m being hard on a kid, but it just seems like he was miscast for this thing.
Jim: I think it’s more that they could have written this film to suit him, as yet another Home Alone rip-off, but then they spend about two-thirds of it playing it like a serious family drama, punctuated by rare moments of weak comedy. There’s this one scene that stands out where Mac and Danson are walking down the street past a bakery, and Danson (who decorates cakes as his legit job) looks at a cake in the window and says, “Look at the crummy detail work on the frosting. I wouldn’t give that cake to Hitler!” That’s what passes as a joke in Getting Even with Dad. They went straight to the Hitler Button.
Ken: You only get to invoke Godwin’s Cake in comedy if you’re Mel Brooks.
Jim: It has to be earned, Ken.
There’s another great throwaway line at the end where Macaulay is like “What are we going to do for money now that you’re legit?” and Danson says, “Maybe I could hire you out as a gigolo.” To his 11-year-old son.
Ken: Isn’t San Francisco crazy?
In any event, Headley gets some degree of flak from her superiors when she saves Culkin from getting hit by a truck and then ends up on a date with his dad (really). Culkin does figure out she’s the fuzz at one point while replaying footage from their big day out and sees her lurking in the background surveilling them, but this doesn’t ever really have much payoff.
Jim: It sort of feels like that camcorder of his was this movie’s Talkboy from Home Alone 2, doesn’t it? Like they were doing some product placement to sell kids on the mischief and spying opportunities that a camcorder would afford them.
Ken: If you’re going to entice kiddos into the theater, ya gotta make some money off their parents, man.
Who could forget that brief moment in 1992 when every kid in America wanted one of these things?
Anyway, out of nowhere the fence is suddenly ready for the coins and Danson demands them. Culkin gives him an ultimatum of “it’s me or the coins,” revealing they’re stashed in a bus station locker. It looks like Danson’s going to be a hardass, but at the last second he makes the right choice and stops the bus from pulling out of the station. Then Saul Rubinek tries to rob them of the coins anyway, only for us to find that the coins were just pennies and Culkin stashed the real ones in yet another location and anonymously returns them, tying everything up. This kid is more resourceful and omnipresent than the freaking Riddler in the Arkham videogames.
Jim: And naturally, since the coins were returned, there will be no need to pursue this $1.5 million heist any further on a criminal level. No harm, no foul.
Ken: Yeah, even though two security guys totally got assaulted during it. Anyway, that’s basically all she wrote. This 108-minute movie felt easily twice as long somehow. What have we learned, Jim?
Jim: I learned that even with the considerable charms of Culkin and Danson at your disposal, it’s really helpful to have more than one sentence of plot available to you in making a family comedy.
Ken: I’m pretty sure Jungle 2 Jungle came out after this, so Hollywood definitely didn’t learn that lesson.
Jim: I’d like to go on the record stating that Jungle 2 Jungle was far superior to this. Getting Even with Dad is bad in a way that is perfectly mundane and instantly forgettable. It makes perfect sense that no one remembers this movie today. I wonder how much Culkin and Danson even remember it.
Ken: You know, I like both of them a great deal actually, and hope that they simply don’t remember it at all. I know I’ll be forgetting it as soon as we close out this chat. I promise to do my best to find something more memorable next month.
Jim: The burden will fall to me to remember more bits of this movie as I assemble the post and scrounge for photos. Joy! But yes, please throw us something out of left field for February, Ken. I need some WTF after this nearly put me to sleep.
Ken: I shall do my best. Until then, sir.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer, and you can follow him on Twitter. Kenneth Lowe is a contributing writer for Paste Movies, and you can read more of his writing at his blog.