Audiences deserve a resounding "mea culpa" for the embarrassing dreck, masquerading as comedy, in The Guilt Trip.
This unfunny road movie (*½ out of four; rated PG-13; opening Wednesday nationwide) was a wrong-headed comeback choice for Barbra Streisand and a pointless effort for Seth Rogen. Sometimes it feels as if Rogen is in awe of acting with Streisand and reins in his natural comic self.
Rogen plays nerdy Andrew, a chemist, who hits the road with his overbearing widowed mom, Joyce, as he tries to sell an eco-friendly cleaning product he created. The film opens with him dodging her incessant phone calls. Yet when he goes to visit her in New Jersey, he inexplicably invites his mom along on a cross-country business trip where he plans to pitch his cleanser to a host of companies around the USA.
His invitation comes after she tells him a story about an old flame. Clearly the guy meant a lot to her, so Andrew does some cyber research to track him down. On a whim, he decides he should re-start his mom's dating career.
Streisand's Joyce is Every Nagging Mom and then some. She's over-invested in her son's life, still buying him socks and underwear, and showing him off to her gal pals at the first opportunity. But she does have the good sense to wonder if she'll get on his nerves in such close quarters? You think?
So many things don't make sense in this extended sitcom. Why does her son let her accompany him on his business meetings if he knows she'll only embarrass him by trying to spit-clean a spot on his face or yell out "Good luck, honey" in a quiet corporate environment? Oh, that's right, it's to make us giggle. If only we could.
In one particularly off-putting scene, the pair stops off at a Texas steakhouse and Joyce decides to consume mass quantities in order to get a free meal. You haven't lived until you've watched Streisand make a pig of herself and flirt with a handsome cowboy at the same time.
Joyce commandeers the journey, insisting they listen to an audiobook, Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex (in a whole new kind of product placement), and arranges an awkward stopover to visit Andrew's high school girlfriend (Yvonne Strahovski) and her new husband (Colin Hanks).
Still, it turns out that Mother knows best - at least when it comes to cleaning products.
In addition to the constant friction there's some forced drama when Joyce learns that her son is trying to set her up with her old boyfriend. It's a bit like the phony hurdles erected in rom-coms - artificial-seeming and necessary only to make for a more sentimental resolution.
The only remotely funny moments are saved for the outtakes that appear after the closing credits.
Mostly what audiences will come away with after sitting through this predictable, cliched and ultimately gooey mother-son bonding experience is how good Streisand looks at 70.
'The Guilt Trip' Clip: Waiting Area