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Movie Review : ‘Dad’ a Tepid Weepie in Kid-Powered Universe

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Kiddies longing for a Mac attack this summer won’t be enlivened by the tepid shenanigans and mushy maunderings of “Getting Even With Dad.” Macaulay Culkin plays the estranged 11-year-old son of an ex-con, and he doesn’t bare his tonsils once.

His eyes moisten on cue, however. Such acting range!

Culkin’s Timmy, motherless, has been living with his aunt for the three years his father, Ray (Ted Danson), has been in prison for stealing VCRs. (A “cute” crime.) Dad, a baker by trade, is out of the clink now and planning a rare coin heist in San Francisco with two bumbly accomplices (Saul Rubinek and Gailard Sartain) when Timmy is deposited on his doorstep for a week’s visit. The boy quickly figures out a way to blackmail his father into loving him--he hides the stolen coin cache and won’t reveal its whereabouts until his father takes him to the amusement park and the aquarium and the ballpark.

It’s difficult to determine what’s more unbelievable--Culkin as an unhappily neglected boy in need of male bonding or Danson as a tough-talking, tattooed ex-con. Actually, Ray is a softened good/bad guy from the start, which leaves no doubt about the ultimate fate of his fathering. He’s a baker , after all--how terrible can he be? He can’t keep the plant in his apartment watered, but it’s clear he’s a closet nurturer.

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Ray has a lot to learn about feelings and his life teacher is Timmy. Ray may be useful to his son showing him how to catch a fish or shoot a basket, but “Getting Even With Dad” is all about--apologies to William Wordsworth--the son being the father to the man. The title for this film should be taken literally: Timmy gets even with his errant dad by transforming him into his emotionally caring equal.

Any movie that asks us to glean life lessons from a character played by Macaulay Culkin is asking for a lot--and asking for trouble. His tyke fans probably won’t connect with the film’s civics lesson tone or its touchy-feely bond-a-thons. (When Culkin’s character was stung to death by a bee in “My Girl” it sent shock waves through kiddieland.) So, as insurance, the filmmakers--director Howard Deutch and screenwriters Tom S. Parker and Jim Jennewein--toss in a lot of stoogey shenanigans involving Rubinek and Sartain. These guys drip chili dogs on their shirts, get crunched in garbage dumpsters, fall down flights of stairs. Now that’s entertainment. Timmy is allowed only one comparable moment: He sips a soda through straws in his nostrils. Interestingly, in a movie clogged with product tie-ins, the soda goes unlabeled. (This could be a commercial miscalculation since kids will want to try this at home.)

Culkin’s acting, such as it is, is deadpan minimalist. Has he been looking at early Clint Eastwood movies for inspiration? He doesn’t seem to have much inner life to draw on for this film, which bollixes its meaning. Timmy’s blackmailing of his father, which is supposed to come out of an inner pain, instead seems like a species of torture. Culkin’s flat line readings have Bad Seed vibes.

But maybe this is the fantasy level that will put “Getting Even With Dad” over the top. Timmy gets to torture his dad in the process of defusing him. Isn’t this what every kid wants? He even maneuvers to get a smitten undercover cop (Glenne Headly) to romance his father, and they all go out together to fancy restaurants and museums. In the kid-power universe of this film, the boy gets to pick his parent’s suitors--another big-time child fantasy. It’s all a bit smug and suspect. You get the feeling that, by the time Timmy hits his teens, dad and he will be double-dating.

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MPAA rating: PG, for mild language. Times guidelines: It includes a character drawing a gun and a robbery .

‘Getting Even With Dad’

Macaulay Culkin: Timmy

Ted Danson: Ray

Glenne Headly: Theresa

Saul Rubinek: Bobby

An Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer release of a Jacobs/Gardner production. Director Howard Deutch. Producers Katie Jacobs, Pierce Gardner. Executive producer Richard Hashimoto. Screenplay by Tom S. Parker, Jim Jennewein. Cinematographer Tim Suhrstedt. Editor Richard Halsey. Costumes Rudy Dillon. Music Miles Goodman. Production design Virginia L. Randolph. Set decorator Barbara Munch. Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes.

In general release throughout Southern California.

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