This phenomenally popular sequel to the phenomenally popular Meet the Parents has been met with a great deal of critical scorn, most of which centers on the movie’s lack of subtlety and its inferiority when compared to the first film.
Can these be serious criticisms? Did anyone expect subtlety from a movie with a title like Meet the Fockers? And did anyone actually think the parent film was imbued with sophisticated wit?
It’s certainly true that Fockers has the combined subtlety of a libido-mad bull elephant and a bad case of flatulence in church, but that’s the kind of movie it is — and the kind it was intended to be. On that level, as a one-joke extension of a one-joke original, it’s just not that bad.
It’s not that good, either. The movie’s too much of the same old thing, and your tolerance for it will be grounded in how endlessly funny you think it is for Ben Stiller’s Gaylord Greg Focker to make a fool of himself while trying to impress Robert DeNiro’s Jack Byrnes. But it is cheerful, colorful, nicely produced and generally pleasant, with the bonus of Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand as Bernie and Roz Focker.
They’re what makes the movie worth a look. The entire premise — apart from the upped ante of Greg and Pam (Teri Polo, Beyond Borders) wanting to push their marriage date forward due to her unexpected pregnancy — revolves around what happens when uptight ex-CIA officer Jack and his less uptight wife, Dina (Blythe Danner), meet the far-from-uptight Focker family.
These Fockers are the last word in free-thinking liberals. Despite the fact that Greg has painted his father as a high-powered lawyer, it turns out that this seemingly rather flaky individual hasn’t practiced law since he decided to play house-husband when Greg was born. Mom, on the other hand, is an outrageous sex therapist who specializes in senior sexuality (something cleverly turned into a plot device near the end), and writes books with titles like Is Your Vagina Happy?. This should clue you in on the sort of humor to be found throughout the film.
The screenplay also takes a page from Alexander Payne’s About Schmidt and presents the Fockers as so proud of their son that they’ve carefully preserved all manner of mementos, mostly consisting of ninth-place prize ribbons. “I didn’t know they made ninth-place ribbons,” marvels Jack, who’s informed that there are even tenth-place ones. This being a comedy in the outrageous mold, however, the idea is expanded to include some rather less traditional souvenirs (one of which you’ve probably seen in the film’s trailer).
While the gags are generally obvious to a fault (no matter how hard they try, the Fockers invariably end up embarrassing Greg), Hoffman and Streisand make it all seem a lot fresher than it is. This is two for two for Hoffman, playing his second flaky character in 2004. Much as he did with his seemingly ditsy character in David O. Russell’s I [Heart] Huckabees, he cleverly underscores his character’s loopy surface with a shrewdness that isn’t immediately apparent. Huckabees gave his character the advantage of a few scenes designed to point this out, but here, he’s pretty much on his own, conveying his innate intelligence with a few looks and gestures.
As for Streisand, she hasn’t been this free in a performance since Peter Bogdanovich’s 1972 What’s Up, Doc?. She’s warm, funny, peculiarly wise and believably over-the-top. Both she and Hoffman have taken obvious material and made something more of it than is actually there.
Stiller is better here than in most of his recent work, not in the least because DeNiro provides a wonderful foil for him — something that’s been missing in his other films of late. And even when the film gets too broad for its own good, it’s fairly pleasant entertainment and consistently good-looking, despite direction from Jay Roach that can at best be called serviceable. Roach here proves that unless he has a specific film style to parody, as in the Austin Powers movies, he really has no style to speak of. That, however, isn’t a huge drawback in a comedy of this sort, which is more reliant on the material and playing than filmmaking technique.
All in all, Meet the Fockers is exactly what you expect it to be. And if that’s what you want, you’re not likely to be disappointed. Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, language and a brief drug reference.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke