Unless you’re Olivia Newton-John’s missing ex, you’ll know that Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro are back doing their best inane and hard-ass, respectively, in ”Little Fockers”, a second sequel to 2001 laffer ”Meet the Parents”. It’s one of the big Christmasy offerings – but a cracker it is not.
Remember how, back in the ’80s when you’d buy a VCR the salesperson would give you this spiel about how many “years you’ll get out of the heads” on the machine? Basically the VCR would be fine for a good 1000 plays… So long as you weren’t playing your ”Fame” cassette on loop day in day out.
The heads have definitely worn on the ”Fockers” franchise. It all started out well, with ”Meet the Parents” a beautifully understated comedy that focused more on the real than the ridiculous. The second, ”Meet the Fockers”, went the way of most sequels – all gloss no giggles, with the studio opting to pay Dustin Hoffman and Barbara Streisand their fat fees to join the franchise but having to lay off a few writers to meet budget. The third (and hopefully final) ”Little Fockers” runs on less gas than an electric car. It’s just bullshit.
Despite the title, sequel three doesn’t so much concentrate on Greg (Stiller) and Pam’s (Teri Polo) offspring – twins, a boy and a girl, about to celebrate their fifth birthday – as it does offer a replay of the boxing match between the former, a well-meaning but wimpish nurse, and his father-in-law (De Niro) Jack Byrnes, a take-no-prisoners ex-CIA agent who’d have preferred his daughter married someone wealthier, more confident and in any other job but nursing (Someone like Kevin, played by Owen Wilson, Pam’s ex-boyfriend, who again makes a reappearance here).
Jack and wife Dina (Blythe Danner) expected to attend their grandchildren’s birthday party, arrive in town a day or so earlier. Jack had come to terms with Greg being the family’s leader once he’s passed – and consequently had started training him to be this ‘Godfocker’ – but quickly changes his mind when discovering Greg could be a philanderer. Now Jack’s out in trench coat and hat, following Greg around like an underpaid private detective, hoping to catch the man in a tryst with his suspected lover (a colleague, played by Jessica Alba).
Meanwhile Greg’s parents, the free-spirited sexpert Roz (Barbara Streisand) and free-thinking dance man Bernie (Dustin Hoffman, spliced into the film at the last minute – he initially refused to return; now we know why), are also in town for the party.
Oh, and as you can assume, the party doesn’t go off without a hitch.
None of the scenes between Greg and Jack, nor any of the others – Greg and Pam’s kids going through an intricate series of tests to gain admittance to a prestigious private school; Jack going head-to-head with the lazy builder (Harvey Keitel) paid to fix up the Focker’s backyard in preparation for the kids’ birthday; Greg having to administer a shot of adrenaline into Jack’s penis after the latter swallows too many erectile dysfunction tablets; Greg trying to impress Jack by being more of a commanding presence around the home- are in the least bit funny. Every moment plays forced and desperate (we get it, the guy’s last name sounds like ‘Fucker’! Can you drag a joke any more to the ground!?) and the film doesn’t so much seem to have a start, middle and end as it does a series of disparate sequences without compel or significance stapled together.
Director Paul Weitz (”American Pie”, ”In Good Company”) ropes in names like Harvey Keitel, Jessica Alba and Laura Dern (playing a teacher at the pricey school Greg and Pam are trying to get their kids into) to help clean the heads on the murky number, but the muck’s etched so deep into the machine that ain’t no amount of starry supports are going to help this focking time waster.
The original film worked because it, mostly, played real. And in those realistic situations, much humour was found.
Now, the characters, the situations and the overdone jokes are cartoonish (or, as I couldn’t help thinking during the film, reduced to the sap you might see on a TV spin-off). Only Universal and Paramount, who co-financed the project, will be laughing (all the way to the bank) this time.
Funnily enough it’s Paul Weitz, director of ”American Pie”, on directing duties here. He watched in horror as his ”American Pie” series too succumbed to mediocrity with its second installment and intolerability by the third. Surprised he didn’t try harder to save this one handsome dog as it wandered towards the river.
”Little Fockers” is about as much fun as having a needle jabbed into ya dick.