The outrageously simple set-up follows: Seth Rogen plays Andy Brewster, a scientist and amateur inventor who has developed a new, totally organic cleaning product. He flies out to New Jersey to spend some time with said Jewish mother Joyce (Streisand), before renting a car and hitting a series of appointments across the country. The night before he's set to leave, his mother tells him a heartbreaking story about the man she loved before his father (who died when Andy was a boy). Andy, curious, uses Bing (which for some reason has become a hot product-placement search engine of late) and sees that this man is still alive and in San Francisco, and promptly adds another stop onto his trip and invites his mother to accompany him.
Instead, "The Guilt Trip" goes down the path most traveled, indulging in a series of well-worn clichés and devoting a minimal amount of time to character development or actual conflict. The middle section of the movie is an endless series of scenes where Seth Rogen rolls his eyes at the outrageousness of his mother and Streisand babbles endlessly, trying desperately to make the wafer-thin script into something (anything) more. But not even the Herculean efforts of a talented warhorse like Streisand can save this thing.
The road trip format lends itself to some picaresque flourishes, not to mention an opportunity to highlight all the crazy characters and situations you can encounter along the road. But "The Guilt Trip" avoids this almost completely. They stop briefly at Andy's ex-girlfriend's house (Yvonne Strahovski), where she lives happily with her husband (Colin Hanks). In another sequence, they stop off at a honky tonk steak bar and Joyce agrees to take part in a challenge to devour a giant slab of meat. This is sort of a funny idea but we're not sure why she's doing it, exactly, because if she eats it all she doesn't have to pay, but Andy still has to pay for his meal (maybe they both eat for free?) Towards the end of the film Joyce remarks that she had a wonderful time because she ate a really big steak and got her ears pierced. It's astounding to think that the filmmakers went out of their way to point out just how little actually happens in the movie.
Overall, there is a fundamental lack of excitement or energy; it's a 95-minute movie that feels twice as long as "The Hobbit." Fletcher doesn't direct as much as she just happens to there as Streisand and Rogen bicker inside a fake car; her direction could be charitably be described as lethargic. There is a shocking lack of chemistry between the two leads, even though this is Streisand's big comeback (she hasn't been the lead in a film since 1996's Oscar-nominated "The Mirror Has Two Faces"), and undoubtedly, when Streisand is good, she reaches nearly stratospheric levels of wonder. Here, though, her face surgically smoothed and forced to play a dopey, predictable, underwritten role, she flounders. It makes her supporting performances in the "Meet the Parents" sequels seem downright dignified in comparison. And that's really saying something. [C-]