‘Like Father’ gets by on the charms of Kristen Bell, Kelsey Grammer (Movie review)

It’s easy to see why “Like Father” went straight to Netflix (the modern equivalent of straight-to-video) rather than getting a theatrical release, but fans of Kristen Bell and/or Kelsey Grammer will still find this light comedy to be mildly charming. The feature-length writing-directing debut from Lauren Miller Rogen, it portrays a workaholic woman, Rachel (Bell), who reconnects with her dad, Harry (Grammer), after being left at the altar by a man who realizes she loves only her job.

Part advertisement for Royal Caribbean cruises and part video brochure for Jamaica, “Like Father” will go down as an insubstantial entry in Bell’s and Grammer’s resumes. But it’s through no fault of their own; they are on their games and have genuine chemistry that lifts the picture above its thin script.

The problem with “Like Father” is that doesn’t transcend smile-on-your-face charming to achieve gut-busting laughs. The sequences that might be comedic set pieces fall flat. For instance, in a game show that tests the partners’ knowledge of each other, Harry and Rachel devise a secret strategy: For any question relating to food, say “pizza”; for any question relating to color, say “black”; and so forth. It doesn’t quite make sense, and Miller and co-writer Anders Bard don’t try for killer punchlines anyway. And the karaoke sequences don’t rise above watching people sing karaoke.

Along with its broad portrayal of the dangers of workaholism, “Like Father” delivers rare insight into the value of best friends and makeshift families. Interestingly, a poignant moment comes when Harry talks about his best friend, Gabe, who is not actually in the movie.

On the cruise, Harry and Rachel develop nice friendships with their assigned table mates, who check the diversity boxes of gay couple, black couple and elderly couple. Oddly, this group doesn’t feature any scene-stealing comedy actors; they are just mildly stereotyped, likeable-enough normal people.

The director’s husband, Seth Rogen, elevates a few scenes as Rachel’s rebound, Jeff. He delivers some of the film’s almost-humor. For example, Jeff has never smoked (a nod to Rogen’s many roles as a stoner), and he follows Rachel’s explanation of how she ended up on the honeymoon cruise with her dad with a Rogenesque “That’s f****d up.”

But deeper laughs never emerge. We’re left to enjoy the scenery of the ocean and Jamaica and the simple pleasure of an estranged father and daughter reconnecting. If you have Netflix, and you are a fan of Bell or Grammer, “Like Father” offers a pleasant, mild diversion.

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