NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - Following in the footsteps of Jane Fonda’s “Monster-in-Law,” the new Diane Keaton comedy “Smother” seemingly demonstrates that the fate of ‘70s-era Oscar winners seems to be playing aging mothers from hell in woeful feature-length sitcoms. Wisely opened without advance press screenings, “Smother” also proves that “Mad Money” actually wasn’t Keaton’s career nadir.
It’s sad to watch the star of Woody Allen’s landmark films, not to mention such dramatic triumphs as “Looking for Mr. Goodbar,” flounder in this painfully unfunny comedy in which she makes her entrance wearing a pumpkin costume. She plays Marilyn, the ultra-annoying mother of Noah (Dax Shepard), who shows up on her son’s doorstep late one night with her five dogs in tow, announcing that she’s left his philandering father (Ken Howard).
This doesn’t sit well with Noah, who’s simultaneously coping with his recent job loss and the desperate efforts of his wife Claire (Liv Tyler) to get pregnant — which he’s attempting to sabotage via an array of such sperm-reducing techniques as masturbating right before sex and wearing underwear four sizes too small. He also has to cope with another unwelcome houseguest: a would-be screenwriter played, in a sort of inside joke, by screenwriter Mike White.
The script, by Tim Rasmussen and director Vince Di Meglio, aims for black comedy, but misses by a wide mark, with such scenes as an elderly woman being struck by a fatal heart attack in a bowling alley and scoring a strike with her motorized wheelchair and the subsequent funeral in which family grievances are aired in dueling eulogies.
Keaton simply embarrasses herself at every turn; the bland Shepard seems to be channeling Zach Braff; and Tyler, though looking lovely in the sexy underwear she’s forced to wear in many scenes, looks like she would prefer to be anywhere else.
“Smother” marks the debut release from a new independent distributor, Variance Films, in yet another sign that the indie distribution model has to be dramatically rethought.