Breezy but contrived, The Thing About My Folks fails to tread any new ground in the family-relationship genre. But vet actor Peter Falk is totally fun to watch, and the film's weepy elements guarantee it will be a crowd-pleaser.

The film opens with Falk's Sam showing up unannounced at the apartment of son Ben (screenwriter Paul Reiser), where the septuagenarian announces his wife of many years (Olympia Dukakis) has left him. As Ben's three sisters attempt to track down their mom, the son decides to take his father's mind off his troubles by driving to upstate New York to look at a farm for sale.

Quicker than you can say "road trip," you know this little jaunt will force the duo to confront various issues that have bothered them for years, and will eventually forge unbreakable bonds. The biggest issue here is a letter that Ben discovered years ago, in which his mother confessed that her husband's workaholic ways had destroyed any love she had for him. When Ben shows the missive to his dad, Sam rails that he's always been a good father, and has been misunderstood.

From this point on, it's just a matter of time until various events-and lots of yadda-yadda conversation-bring the pair closer together. Along the way, they get into a car crash, buy a 1940s convertible, shoot pool at a local bar, and engage in some Western line dancing at a roadhouse. The movie wraps up tidily with all relationships smoothed over, and family equilibrium reestablished.

Ultimately, The Thing About My Folks is as pat as a TV sitcom, and about as engaging. Formulaic to the max, it's never as funny nor as insightful as it wants to be. More than anything, the film is a showcase for Falk, who, at age 78, remains as feisty and colorful as always. The Thing About My Folks would be nothing without him-and it's not much with him.

-Lewis Beale