Little Fockers (2010) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sexual humor throughout, language and some drug content
Running time: 98 min.
Cast: Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, Owen Wilson, Teri Polo, Jessica Alba, Barbra Streisand, Dustin Hoffman, Blythe Danner, Colin Baiocchi, Daisy Tahan, Harvey Keitel, Laura Dern, Kevin Hart, Tom McCarthy
Cameo: Deepak Chopra
Director: Paul Weitz
Screenplay: John Hamburg, Larry Stuckey
Little Fockers represents the third in the lucrative Meet the Parents series, and its par for the course as far as intent and delivery, no better and no worse than the fulfillment of audience expectations. Ribald sexual humor, a few gross-out moments, a bunch of misunderstandings, patriarchal emasculations, and sitcom-inspired antics are all on the menu, serving up a dish that's like meatloaf: familiar enough to appeal to a broad range of consumers who aren't expecting it to be much more than edible.
While it carries the title of Little Fockers, most of the movie has little to do with the twin children of Greg (Stiller, The Heartbreak Kid) and Pam (Polo, Meet the Fockers) Focker (twins despite an obvious age difference of several years between the actors playing them). The bulk of the story, such as it is, deals with Greg's living up to the expectations put upon him by his father-in-law Jack Byrnes (De Niro, Machete), when the latter realizes, after suffering from a mild stroke, that someone will need to assume the role as head of the family when he passes. Meanwhile, Greg is having trouble paying for his children's education at a unique private school (it seems Greg's new career as a hospital administrator pays less than nursing), so he consents to take a job working as a speaker for a drug company that produces Sustengo, aka "boner pills", that won't affect the heart (not difficult to see where that's going). As Jack begins to suspect that Greg may be carrying on an affair with the drug company's rep, a younger bombshell named Andi Garcia (Alba, The Love Guru), he begins to question whether Greg has what it takes to fill his sizable shoes as father to his grandchildren and husband to his beloved daughter.
Other than as a chance for its studio to make money, there isn't much new or novel to justify another entry in the series, as nothing in particular happens in this film except to set up the possibility of another movie, or perhaps a television show based on these characters with different actors in the key roles. Mostly, the makers of this entry are content to spin their wheels, setting up obvious gags that are sometimes funny, more often not. Jack has a heart condition that requires him to stay relaxed and stress-free, so when a scene establishing that Greg's son (Baiocchi, Couples Retreat) has a pet lizard and the next scene has a discussion of Jack's fear of lizards, you know exactly where the scene is headed. The game cast of actors still manages to sell these tired kinds of gags, some of which do evoke laugh-out-loud moments, through their energy and likeability, but on the whole, they deserve much better -- and so do we.
At only 98 minutes, it's more amusing to examine the kinds of forced situations that new director Paul Weitz (American Dreamz, In Good Company) decides to expend minutes on. A minute for Greg and Andi to assist with sticking a tube into an ornery patient's anus. Two for Greg to stick a needle into his father-in-law's erect penis. Toss in a son puking in his father's face, Greg spraying his family with blood from an open wound, Greg's mother (Streisand, Nuts) trying to entice him into trying musical condoms that play tunes that get faster with his own speed during intercourse, and a few other choice tidbits, and you can see where much of the comedy aims. It's chock full of lowbrow scenes of embarrassment to elicit laughter to audiences who snicker at anything rude or crude.
The amount of characters the series has accumulated is beginning to encroach Shrek-series-like proportions, where new characters are continuously introduced to try to spice things up when the well for the old characters has run dry. In addition to Alba, whose character is written sloppy and nonsensical, getting an inordinate amount of focus, there's also Harvey Keitel (National Treasure 2) as some sort of contractor working on the Focker yard (the scene of Keitel and De Niro acting together again will only sadden viewers at the state of their acting careers since the days of Mean Streets and Taxi Driver), and even Laura Dern (Lonely Hearts) gets to languish through a few scenes as the school headmistress. Almost an afterthought, Greg's parents are given a few minor scenes (reportedly, Dustin Hoffman (Kung Fu Panda) reluctantly agreed to a limited appearance after wanting out), while scenes are contrived to inject Owen Wilson (Night at the Museum), Pam Focker's former flame, are beefed up. They even manage to find a way to have the Byrnes pet Himalayan cat make an appearance for the film's children's-party-on-crack finale. One can only imagine how many re-tools the script had undergone in order to create characters and scenarios dependent on who was signing on to appear.
Little Fockers comes and passes, titillating for the moment, then it's instantly forgotten. The amount of yuks this gives you will likely be the predominant factor in how much you enjoy the overall experience, but there's no question that the series is tapped out of ideas by this point, and it only deserves to continue on as the sitcom on television it so clearly is tailor-made to be. At least we should hope it does, before the family pets get to be the stars of the next film.
©2011 Vince Leo