Directed By: Paul Weitz
Screenplay By: John Hamburg, Larry Stuckey
Based upon characters created by Greg Glienna & Mary Ruth Clarke
Produced By: Robert De Niro, John Hamburg, Jay Roach, Jane Rosenthal
Cast: Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, Owen Wilson, Teri Polo, Jessica Alba, Blythe Danner
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 98 minutes
Release Date: December 22, 2010
Review Date: December 22, 2010
Meet the Parents was hardly a comedy classic, but it did turn on the entertaining premise of a retired CIA operative obsessively grilling the potential husband of his favorite daughter. It was played for broad laughs and hit a few, even providing Ben Stiller with one of his finest comic freak-outs as he is told that he cannot say “bomb” on a plane. The cash-in sequel, Meet the Fockers signaled its intentions to aim for the lowest common denominator by taking the most obvious joke from the first film and building the title around it. It was a dreary, forced affair that wasted the combined talents of Stiller, Robert De Niro, and Dustin Hoffman. Compared to Little Fockers, it’s a masterpiece.
Greg Focker (Stiller) is now the well-respected head of nursing at a Chicago hospital. He and his wife Pam (Teri Polo) are now the parents of twin four-year-olds (Colin Baiocchi, Daisy Tahan) and have bought a house that is being renovated by a contractor (Harvey Keitel in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him cameo) who is slowly bleeding them dry with cost overruns. To make a long, labored plot setup short, Greg is starting to feel the financial squeeze and takes a second job as a medical representative for a new erectile dysfunction drug.
Meanwhile, Jack (De Niro), Greg’s father-in-law and natural antagonist, suffers a mild heart attack that has him worrying about the future of the family. Angered by the discovery that his other son-in-law has cheated on and is leaving his daughter, he looks to the now-trusted Greg to carry on as the family caretaker. Greg is touched and empowered by this new responsibility. But when Jack visits for the twins’ fifth birthday party, he finds Greg acting squirrelly because of his embarrassment at his job selling the drug. Jack meets Andi (Jessica Alba), the beautiful pharmaceutical representative for Greg’s drug, and leaps to the conclusion that Greg is having an affair. Of course, wacky mix-up is piled upon wacky mix-up, but hilarity does not ensue.
I don’t think I’ve seen a movie with so many actors looking embarrassed to be taking part in it. Stiller, De Niro, Hoffman, and Laura Dern (in a cameo as the head of a private kindergarten) are all fine actors, but they’re not good enough to hide the shame behind their eyes as they spout groan-worthy puns, offer up exaggerated reaction shots to ridiculous moments, and recycle old bits from the previous movies that have long since lost any effectiveness they may have once held. Maybe there wasn’t shame behind their eyes. Maybe I just imagined it because I have such respect for all of them and I felt shame for them.
It’s hard to believe from a film that has a title like Little Fockers, but that smirking, oh-isn’t-it-so-naughty pseudo-pun isn’t even the worst example of non-funny material on display. That honor could go to the fact that Andi’s last name is Garcia. That’s right, she has the same name as the smoldering, handsome costar of Ocean’s Eleven! How hilarious! Maybe the worst joke honor goes to the tried and true yuk-producer of kids hearing a profanity and repeating it? Oh, those little scamps! I swear, the things they say! Could it be the dated spoofs of The Godfather and Jaws that have been parodied for the last thirty-plus years? No, the worst offender on display is the odious (and obvious) use of the erectile dysfunction drug to create a scene where Greg is forced to jab a needle into Jack’s penis. I have nothing snarky to say about such a development. That such a scene exists says everything that needs to be said about the film.
Beyond the clichéd attempts at humor, the film fails on even a narrative level. Bits of plot are recycled from the first two films, characters are introduced only to sit on the sidelines with little to do (Pam’s old boyfriend played by Owen Wilson, Greg’s parents played by Hoffman and Barbra Streisand), and attempts to give Greg and Pam’s kids some personality are quickly dropped after a first act setup where one sadly states that he has no friends. It may have just been feedback from a bad speaker, but I’m almost certain that I heard the writers screaming from the labor pains of trying to give birth to the convoluted plot twists that would explain why all these characters would just happen to be in the same place at the same time.
In a year that gave us Jonah Hex and Grown Ups, I can’t call Little Fockers the worst movie that was released, but it comes close. Perhaps this dispiriting entry will mark the end of a franchise that never should have extended past its first film.
Matt Wedge is a writer and film critic currently doing time in the suburbs of Connecticut.