Because I like to get my prejudices right out in the open, I should let everyone know that I wasn’t a fan of the original Meet the Parents, which turned out to be the inexplicable comedy hit of 2000. I say “inexplicable” because the entire film, detailing the first meeting between Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) and his fiancée’s parents (Robert De Niro and Blythe Danner), played like a series of rejected “Three’s Company” plots. Relying on the comic chops of De Niro – who grimaced his way through the picture like a man keenly aware of comparisons to “Raging Bull” – and the dwindling comedy stylings of a stammering and pratfalling Stiller, “Meet the Parents” nevertheless made a pantload of dough. And, if other reviews are any indication, I may be one of the only human beings on the planet who didn’t find it all that funny.
Given that, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to hear that I wasn’t looking forward to the sequel, “Meet the Fockers,” which reunites the original cast and also throws in Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand as Greg’s parents. Hell, the mere mention of the name “Barbra Streisand” is usually enough to make me throw up in my mouth a little, but I’m a (semi)professional, which means I simply had to review this movie. Besides, the fact that The Barbra was making a new movie (her first since 1996’s “The Mirror has Two Faces” and her first comedy since 1981’s “All Night Long”) is almost a media event unto itself.
Naturally, after all that build up, it should come as even less of a surprise that I enjoyed “Meet the Fockers” more than its predecessor. Even more scandalous, Barbra is the best part of the film. Of course, we’re not talking a significant improvement here. Director Jay Roach continues his regrettable “Austin Powers” habit of beating the same shtick to death until nothing of comedy value remains by trotting out the same jokes (Greg’s a nurse…and he’s a man! Jinxie the Cat can use a toilet! “Focker” sounds like “F****r!”), and throwing in news ones that might have been better left alone (Greg drinks breast milk! The Fockers’ dog gets into it with Jinxie!).
As “Meet the Fockers” opens, it’s been two years since the events of the first film. Greg and Pam (Teri Polo) are still engaged, and are planning to fly down to Florida with Pam’s parents to meet Greg’s mom and dad for the first time. However, Jack decides that they’re going to drive in his custom Winnebago instead. If anyone had forgotten the jokes about the Burns family “circle of trust” or Jack’s extreme anal retentiveness, the first 20 minutes will get you caught up quite sufficiently. The dynamic between Greg and Jack grows so tiresome it’s a welcome diversion when the Burns RV rolls into Florida and we finally do meet the Fockers.
I hate to damn with faint praise, but if the original movie reminded one of “Three’s Company,” “Meet the Fockers” recalls “Dharma and Greg.” The Fockers are free-spirited, sexually uninhibited Jews while the Burns are white, uptight, and Protestant. Greg’s dad Bernie was a stay-at-home father, whereas Jack extracted fingernails for the CIA. The expected misunderstandings ensue, as you’d expect, which would be pretty excruciating if not for the performances of Hoffman and Streisand. It isn’t that their lines are necessarily better written, or that someone other than Roach directed their scenes, it’s just that they’re the only two in the whole movie who seem to be having any fun with their roles. Hoffman takes a perverse pleasure in Bernie’s obliviousness, while Streisand throws herself into the role of Roz, Greg’s sex therapist mother, with gusto – even to the point of making your forget about the extreme cognitive disconnect inherent in the phrase “sex therapist Barbra Streisand.” Now that’s acting.
There are subplots concerning Greg’s maybe illegitimate son and Pam’s unexpected pregnancy, both of which merely serve to give the characters something around which to frame their individual neuroses. Beyond that, “Meet the Fockers” is little more than a holiday trifle. It offers an excuse for the beleaguered to escape their families for a few short hours, and allows them the luxury of thinking, “At least Barbra Streisand’s not my mother-in-law,” or, “Why doesn’t that wimp Greg bury an icepick in Jack’s eye socket and get it over with?”
Not that my opinion matters much. “Meet the Fockers” will go on to gross $150 million, and the only thing this review will accomplish is giving someone, years down the road, hard evidence that I once had kind things to say about Barbra Streisand. And to be fair, she appears to be making an effort to set things right after the infernal horror that was “Yentl.”
But there’s a ways to go yet.
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