'Fockers' Yields a Few Laughs
Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
Sometimes going into a movie with diminished expectations can be helpful. "Little Fockers" is the third film in what one could either call the "Parents" or the "Fockers" or the "Meet The" series. Its predecessors were, most people know (or else there wouldn't be a third one, right), 2000's "Meet the Parents" and 2004's "Meet the Fockers." The hook for "Parents," of course, was pairing Ben Stiller's patented tightly wound schlub persona with/against Robert De Niro's tightly wound, maybe even potentially homicidal, tough-guy persona. And the former persona would be proposing to marry the daughter of the latter persona. Get it? You're dating a woman and you think it's going great, and then you find out that her dad is Travis Bickle/Al Capone/Max Cady, etc. etc. Hilarity is bound to ensue.
Whatever it was that actually ensued, the movie made big money, and so for the sequel they upped the persona ante and introduced the parents of Stiller's Greg, aka Gaylord Focker, character, Fanny Brice and Benjamin Braddock. By whom I mean Barbra Streisand and Dustin Hoffman. The concept being that these parents are as loosey-goosey and hippy-dippy and eccentric as De Niro's now-father-in-law is paranoid and tightly wound. Whatever. The combination of stacked iconic star power with near-nonstop bathroom humor made "Meet the Fockers" seem a trifle, well, overdetermined is one way of putting it.
And so to "Little Fockers," in which the new Focker family, its boy/girl fraternal twins now approaching kindergarten, faces a ... kids birthday party. Which is to say, a pretext for a sequel to a sequel. Behind-the-scenes making-of rumblings concerning the film seemed even more hugely unpromising than they might have been under rosier circumstances, as Hoffman had been a holdout in the "we're getting the whole gang back together" proceedings (said gang also including Blythe Danner as Focker mom-in-law, Teri Polo as Greg's wife, and Owen Wilson as a wildly successful ex of Polo's character). Eventually he did sign on, but because of the delay, most of his scenes here are almost literally phoned in.
And for all that, it must be said I did not find "Little Fockers" to be particularly excruciating. Indeed, I laughed pretty hard several times. My father-in-law, whom I brought to the screening as a kind of experiment, can testify to this. (That admission, in fact, is the only piece of material for use in this review that resulted from said experiment.) While it does not begin at all promisingly, opening with an immediately hammered-into-the-ground gag joke about a celebrity-soundalike name that seems to have been lifted wholesale from another recent not-classic comedy, "Date Night" (the character played by Jessica Alba, a hotsie-totsie pharma rep who wants to recruit Greg for endorsement work and a little more, goes by "Andi Garcia," ar ar ar), it eventually settles into an amiably funny groove that holds steady when the picture isn't negotiating its way around pro-forma gags concerning projectile vomiting and side effects of erectile dysfunction drugs. And why shouldn't it? The cast is made up entirely of old pros; indeed, one may have forgotten that Streisand is, among other things, a top-shelf comedic actress, and she really shows off her chops here even when the script, by John Hamburg and Larry Stuckey, isn't giving her much to work with.
Of course, she's got a heck of a lot more to work with than Polo and Danner; this is mostly a boys-being-silly picture, and one of the new boys, no doubt courtesy of De Niro, who's not only a co-star but an executive producer, is Method man Harvey Keitel, playing a layabout contractor who gets put on notice, after a fashion, by De Niro's character. Their exchange here isn't as funny as a couple of the ones in "Mean Streets" back in the day, but, by the same token, it's somewhat less creepy than their interaction in "Taxi Driver." If you can stand the ostensible sacrilege (and this is not the only instance of that here. There's also a genuinely peculiar nod to the pitcher-of-ice-water scene from "Raging Bull"), it's kind of cute. Also noteworthy is the fact that director Paul Weitz wraps up the whole opportunistic thing in just a hair or so over 90 minutes. Brevity not merely being the soul of wit, but the key to not annoying certain movie critics.
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.