When a bad movie includes a good scene, it’s almost more disappointing than a consistently bad movie — because in that good scene you see the potential the rest of the movie squandered.
So it is with “The Guilt Trip,” a predictable chunk of mother/son shtick that wastes the talents of the usually funny Seth Rogen and the still-gorgeous Barbra Streisand.
Rogen plays Andy Brewster, a California chemical engineer eager to sell his invention, an environmentally safe cleaning solution, to a major retailer. He plans to drive cross-country visiting major retail chains to sell the product, starting in New Jersey — where his mom Joyce (Streisand) lives.
As written by Dan Fogelman (“Crazy, Stupid, Love”), Joyce is every Jewish-mother stereotype all rolled into one package: Obsessive over her son, nagging, prying, and oversharing. When Joyce overshares that Andy was named after her first love, the man she dated before marrying Andy’s now-deceased father, Andy does some searching on the Internet, and learns that Andy is alive and living in San Francisco. So Andy, out of curiosity and in the interest of relieving his mom’s loneliness, invites Joyce along for the road trip.
What follows, as devised by Fogelman and director Anne Fletcher (“The Proposal”), is a series of semi-improvised scenes of Joyce and Andy needling each other, either in a car or in a hotel room. The humor, alas, is so laid-back that it’s comatose.
But at nearly the one-hour mark, there’s a powerful scene in which Joyce and Andy finally blow up at each other in Texas — and you can see the stirrings of a better, more emotionally honest movie. But the moment passes, and “The Guilt Trip” reverts to the safe sitcom groove that it rode all the way from New Jersey.
‘The Guilt Trip’
A safe sitcom scenario, of a mother and son on a road trip, wastes the charms of Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand.
Where • Theaters everywhere.
When • Opens today.
Rating • PG-13 for language and some risque material.
Running time • 98 minutes.