Sign up for our free newsletter

Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.

In the battle of The In-Laws, Fat Cobra ends up being no match for Señor Pepe. The new Michael Douglas-Albert Brooks remake of the 1979 comedy hews closely to the classic Peter Falk-Alan Arkin original, tweaking details to better suit modern sensibilities (making the wife a bitter ex, throwing in some absentee-father issues) but still bringing each broad stroke along for the wannabe-zany ride. Both versions put the night-and-day main characters—a kooky CIA agent and a sensible doctor who meet shortly before their kids are to be married—through similar madcap situations, including an unfortunate meeting with a not-quite-right foreign nemesis. And yes, it’s funny when Brooks, as Dr. Jerry Peyser, podiatrist, gets purred at by a bi-curious French smuggler who’s intrigued by the serpentine nickname bestowed on Jerry by his partner in crime, Steve Tobias (Douglas). It really is. But compared with the original’s wild-eyed Latin dictator, with his penchant for drawing faces on his hand (Buenos dias, Pepe!) and displaying bare-breasted prostitutes on his flag? Not even close. Though both screenplays are credited to Blazing Saddles scripter Andrew Bergman, Nat Mauldin’s assist in the 2003 telling seems to take all the Saddles-esque silliness out of the story, relying too often on outlandish stunts and even stooping to—sigh—a fat-white-guy thong shot for laughs. Brooks ably milks some chuckles out of his neurotic, emergency-fanny-pack-wearing multiphobe, but Douglas is just wrong as the too-wacky agent. His manic mugging—Douglas is clearly having a good time—is ultimately irritating, giving viewers the impression that Steve knows he’s being a jerk, as opposed to original agent Falk’s crossed-eyed sincerity when he calmly boasts of seeing tsetse flies the size of eagles. Wasted are sitcom transplant Ryan Reynolds (who has exactly one funny moment as Steve’s son, Mark) and showbiz vet Candice Bergen (whose perfect comic timing as Steve’s ex puts everyone else’s to shame). The new but not improved In-Laws is yet another testament to the if-it-ain’t-broke philosophy that classics should be left alone—and anyone who disagrees can talk to the hand.—Tricia Olszewski