Producers: Andrew Miano, Paul Weitz, Chris Weitz and Judi Marmel   Director: Laura Terruso   Screenplay:  Austen Earl and Sebastian Maniscalco   Cast: Sebastian Maniscalco, Robert De Niro, Leslie Bibb, Anders Holm, David Rasche, Brett Dier and Kim Cattrall   Distributor: Lionsgate

Grade: C-

If you feel like closing your eyes while watching “About My Father,” odds are you won’t miss much.  The screenplay by star Sebastian Maniscalco and Austen Earl is written like a stand-up comedy routine, with Maniscalco telling us pretty much everything that happens and how to react.  That’s not surprising since Maniscalco is a stand-up comic making his first lead appearance here. 

Closing your eyes might also help in tolerating Maniscalco’s performance, which has a desperate, deer-in-the-headlights vibe throughout.  (He looks a bit like Jerry Seinfeld, if his finger were stuck in an electrical outlet.)  On the evidence presented on this occasion, he should not quit his night job for a career starring in movies.

The plot is loosely based on Maniscalco’s actual courtship of his wife Lana Gomez; it’s reframed as Chicago hotelier Maniscalco’s July 4 trip to the ritzy Virginia summer home of Bill and Tigger Collins (David Rasche and Kim Cattrall), the parents of his girlfriend Ellie (Leslie Bibb). He’s accompanied by his widowed father Salvatore (Robert De Niro), a flamboyantly Sicilian hairdresser unsure about whether his son should take the step of proposing and refusing to hand over the family’s heirloom engagement ring until he meets Ellie’s folks.  Everything is ramped up in exaggeratedly comic fashion, of course, but the basic premise has been used many times before, as, for example, in “Auntie Mame,” where the title character took the opportunity of a trip to the family estate of her nephew’s intended to break up a romance she considered a mistake. 

That tack isn’t taken here, of course, since the movie wants to turn problems into solutions, ending with a kumbaya celebration among all the characters.  (See also “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”)  Along the way there’s a great load of slapstick and schmaltz, and also of De Niro, doing one of his lovably gruff turns as Maniscalco’s dad Salvo.

De Niro, who’s shared the screen with Maniscalco before (the comic played one of the guys De Niro whacked in “The Irishman”) gamely takes on the part of the flamboyant self-made man motivated as much by fear of losing his son as by any dislike of Ellie.  (Oddly, Salvo and Sebastian seem to live in a bubble in Chicago, without any family or friends.)  He certainly doesn’t stint on the mugging, the elaborately ethnic gestures, or the slow burns.

Yet for all the affection with which Salvo is treated, as a character he comes off as a stereotype, whose oddities (like a spritzing ritual that he and his son go through with cologne before retiring every night—apparently they still live together) seem sitcom-quirky, even if they actually have some basis in reality (as, presumably, does his dogged insistence on paying his own way for lunch).  And his sudden shift from staunchly remaining an outsider to going to great lengths to fit in comes off as just another comic contrivance.

The same sort of weirdness attaches to Ellie’s family.  We’re told their lineage stretches back to the Mayflower, but they act more like brash members of the nouveau riche than snooty old aristocrats.  Bill is at once apologetic about his place’s opulence and proud of his supposedly building his hotel empire on his own, while Tigger is presented as a ferociously opinionated U.S. senator who, from her frequent appearances on cable news, seems more barroom brawler than traditionalist (as does her rage on the tennis court).  And their sons are a typical contrast of exaggerated opposites, Lucky (Anders Holm) a hyper-privileged money guy with a streak of arrogance a mile long, and Doug (Brett Dier) the ultra-mellow New Agey type who serenades the family’s pet peacocks with a flute and plays soothing sound bowls.  Bill and Tigger have a habit of being manipulative (offering Sebastian a cushy job in D.C. and secretly buying Ellie’s artwork, a subplot that assumes absurd importance in the last act).  But it turns out that their heart is always in the right place, so all is well by the finale, with even Lucky suddenly transforming into a good guy.

There’s also a vein of crude humor that regularly surfaces: a hard-hit ball in that tennis scene that lands in a most uncomfortable place, a later occasion when Sebastian, riding what appears to be some sort of weird rocket-shoe gizmo during a lake scene, loses his swimming trunks and flounces around mid-air in the buff. (He also gets to go hysterical during a helicopter ride.)  At these moments Maniscalco seems to be striving to mimic Ben Stiller, but without much success.  De Niro gets in on the act, too, in a sequence in which he prepares an Italian dinner for the Collins family but must improvise on the ingredients, with gruesomely unfunny results.  Of course, it’s all intended as mildly naughty rather than offensive.

With the whole cast embracing the unapologetically broad style encouraged by director Laura Terruso—you have to feel for them at the close, when they all don ridiculous Christmas-themed outfits—the movie winds up feeling like a mediocre network sitcom.  It even looks and sounds like one, given the glaringly colorful production design by Javiera Varas and costumes by Brenda Abbandandolo accentuated by Rogier Stoffers’ overly bright cinematography and Stephanie Economou’s bouncy score.  Kudos to editor Scott D. Hanson, who brings the movie in under ninety minutes, though one can’t ignore his contribution to what’s still there.

“About My Father” goes for some very low-hanging comic fruit, and for some that will be enough.  But it’s the cinematic equivalent of a wormy apple or overripe banana.  There is one silver lining, though: it’s being released more than three weeks before Father’s Day, which means it will be long gone from theatres before sons will be inclined to drag their dads to see it (or vice versa).

By then it might already be streaming, though.