Sequel to unfunny series of movies even less funny.
So what if Little Fockers is getting ripped to shreds by most critics — I think it’s really daring that director Paul Weitz decided to take a sequel to Jay Roach’s Meet the Parents series of comedies and turn it into a somber drama completely devoid of any laughs.
Little Fockers was supposed to be a comedy? Never mind.
Weitz, who once showed such great promise with films such as About a Boy and In Good Company, has made the film equivalent of riding a Greyhound to visit your family during the holiday and having to sit next to an overweight smelly man who occasionally drools on your arm. It’s a long (the film manages to make 98 minutes seem like an eternity), emotionally distant carbon copy of the same familiar strife that has plagued the series’ cast of distrustful, anxiety-ridden CBS Monday night sitcom rejects since Meet the Parents snuck up on audiences ten years ago and hit them over the head with a bat so large it caused moviegoers to slip into a coma where, upon awakening, they had forgotten how unfunny the original film was and demanded a sequel.
Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller return as Jack Byrnes and Gaylord “Greg” Focker respectively. Time has mellowed the two in-laws’ relationship and they have even developed a mild respect for each other. But, because comedy is cyclical, the two’s relationship takes a turn for the south when a series of escalating misunderstandings leads Jack to believe his son-in-law is cheating on Jack’s daughter.
Also back for the ride is Blythe Danner, Teri Polo, Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand as the rest of the Focker family. The cast is given little to work with — acting from a script that is as repetitive as it is tiresome. Little Fockers is for the same audience that love cheesy canned laughter sitcoms where the same characters’ problems are worn into a grove every week and nothing ever changes.
The film wields its comedy like a large, blunt tool — knocking over lamps and chairs as it swings a misshapen approximation of humor around its head trying to connect with somebody. Most audiences with a taste for quality comedy, though, will know enough within the first few minutes to back away and let the film burn off its energy until it slumps back down into its chair and begins to cry.
That is not to say that the film doesn’t try its hardest to please. Owen Wilson returns to the franchise as Kevin Rawley, a romantic rival to Gaylord. In his role, Wilson acts like an overeager puppy dog — pulling all the stops in his attempt to make audiences laugh. He even makes out with Barbara Streisand for a giggle. All is for naught, though. Despite Wilson’s mugging for the camera, his role amounts to little more than clumsily staged conflict — brought in to spice up a film that was quickly turning into an boring version of Ron Howard’s Parenthood.
The film just doesn’t know what it wants to be about — parenting problems, relationship issues or Ben Stiller slowly shedding his talent like a snake shedding skin.
In supporting roles are Jessica Alba, as a pharmaceutical rep who serves as sexual temptation to the perpetually stressed Gaylord; Laura Dern, as the headmistress of an elite elementary school; and Harvey Keitel, as a contractor working on Gaylord’s new home.
I could not fathom a guess as to why Dern and Keitel were hired for the roles they played. Not quite cameos, their parts are so small and inconsequential that two Academy Award nominees were playing the roles boggled my mind long after I had left the theater. The best way to describe the actors’ roles is to compare them to the short and numerous guest voice cameos on a newer episode of The Simpsons, a show that often seems determined to fill every speaking role with somebody of note — regardless of whether or not it is called for. Little Fockers apparently thought they could fill the holes in the comedy by shoving in talented actors. Instead, the film came out looking like a broken vase taped together with Harvey Keitel-shaped band-aids. Sure the vase may be in one piece again but it looks ugly as hell.
Jessica Alba, who has a slightly larger role, certainly seems game to act in a comedy — throwing all her energy into the role. Unfortunately, the actress seems to be appearing in an entirely different movie — playing extremely broad where the other actors are more subdued and, let’s face it, lazy.
While it wouldn’t be a Ben Stiller movie if he didn’t give one of his patented nervous rants, even Stiller’s performance seems lethargic — like he was fulfilling a contractual obligation or was even kidnapped against his will. This goes for De Niro too. There were times during the movie where I had to second-check the fact that I was actually watching De Niro and not a Saturday Night Live actor doing an impersonation of De Niro.
Little Fockers has a threadbare story, unentertaining conflict and unfunny jokes. In other words, there will be a lot of audiences who will eat the movie up — guffawing at the clumsy comedy in the same way they do reruns of America’s Funniest Home Videos. Little Fockers is probably a movie for your parents — but if that is the case, you might want to think twice about visiting them this Christmas.
Director: Paul Weitz Notable Cast: Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Blythe Danner, Teri Polo, Jessica Alba, Laura Drn, Harvey Keitel, Dustan Hoffman and Barbra Streisand Writer(s): Jim Herzfeld, John Hamburg and Larry Stuckey
Robert Saucedo is an avid movie watcher with seriously poor sleeping habits. The Mikey from Life cereal of film fans, Robert will watch just about anything — good, bad or ugly. He has written about film for newspapers, radio and online for the last 10 years. This has taken a toll on his sanity — of that you can be sure. Follow him on Twitter at @robsaucedo2500.