Meet The Fockers

on December 22, 2004 by Kim Williamson
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Director Jay Roach is best known for his helming of the "Austin Powers" trilogy and for 2000's "Meet the Parents." That fame won't change with the release of the latter's low-flying sequel, "Meet the Fockers," a quasi-, often queasy comedy that pleases mostly on the surprising charm of new cast additions Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand as the footloose Floridian parents of male nurse Greg Focker (Ben Stiller). Greg, set to marry Pam Byrnes (Teri Polo), having previously defended his life to uptight ex-CIA operative Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro), now must live through a weekend of parents meeting parents. As expected, the compare-and-contrast conflicts between the elder couples -- on the free-spirited Focker side, a live-at-home Mr. Mom of a dad and a sex-therapist-to-septuagenarians mother; on the nearly neo-Nazi Byrnes side, a driven-to-emotional-dyspepsia father and a desperate-for-normalcy mom (Blythe Danner) -- provide fireworks.

There are films, which mean, and there are movies, which entertain. Film comedies needn't be audience pleasers, but movie comedies must be, it being their raison d'etre. On that score, "Meet the Fockers" fails, as there's simply too much unpleasantness afoot. To be effective as an iconic character, De Niro's Jack Byrnes needs to be strict and domineering, but rational; in this sequel, he's so beyond the pale -- he even administers a shot of truth serum to his future son-in-law, to learn whether Greg, in a subplot, is the father of an illegitimate Hispanic son -- that he comes off as simply a right-wing nut job, worthy not of the counseling that Streisand's Roz Focker tries to administer but of a simple punchout, had Greg the fortitude. For his part, Stiller's so-weak-he's-comic Greg Focker needs to be squirmy, but here he's wormy to boot, desperate to please future papa-in-law at whatever cost to his roots; audience sympathy flows to the perplexed Hoffman-Streisand duo every time their son betrays his cowardly side, which cowardice also betrays the solid, humane emotional bedrock gracing the core of the Focker family. One feels that, had the paternity testing involved Focker pere and fils, the result would have been negative.

Another key subplot has Jack taking care, in goosestep style, of grandchild Little Jack (twins Spencer and Bradley Pickren), in a story arc that begins with the spy vet feeding the toddler via a fake breast and ends with the unfortunate urchin calling the man an asssssssss-hoooooooole. Sadly, the moniker is accurate, yet equally applicable to the film's other lead character, Greg. Returning scenarists John Hamburg and Jim Herzfeld's script, except for three instances of pratfall humor, exclusively travels the-more-discomfort-the-more-funny route. Were the warm good-heartedness, however disguised as "wacky" for comedic purposes, of Hoffman and Streisand's characters not so craft-righting, this "Focker" would crash and byrne. Starring Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Teri Polo and Blythe Danner. Directed by Jay Roach. Written by John Hamburg and Jim Herzfeld. Produced by Robert De Niro, Jay Roach and Jane Rosenthal. A Universal release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, language and a brief drug reference. Running time: 114 min
Tags: Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Teri Polo, Blythe Danner, Directed by Jay Roach, Written by John Hamburg, Jim Herzfeld, Produced by Robert De Niro, Jay Roach, Jane Rosenthal, A Universal release, Comedy, humor, good-heartedness, disguised, iconic, right-wing
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