Little Fockers (United States, 2010)December 20, 2010
Watching Little Fockers is a depressing experience. Rarely does a comedy bring such an overpowering sense of sadness. Admittedly, I laughed a few times and am willing to admit that the experience as a whole was more bearable than the trial of sitting through Meet the Fockers, but that doesn't alleviate my fundamental reaction: this is perhaps the most dispiriting motion picture of the holiday season. It's all about Robert De Niro. Once, in what seems to have been another lifetime, De Niro was considered by many to be the greatest living actor. That was before he started dabbling in comedy. It didn't take long for the novelty value to wear off. Now, like Leslie Nielsen, he has become impossible to take seriously. With this year's Stone, it appeared there might yet be hope for De Niro to return to acting. Little Fockers has shattered that hope. In many ways, it represents a new low for De Niro, a level of embarrassment to which I never thought I would see him sink. Watching his third outing as lunatic father Jack Byrnes, I embraced the reality that the De Niro of Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas is dead. All we have left is this bloated self-parody. Talk about a harsh dose of reality. (De Niro, it should be noted, is complicit in the immolation of his image - he's listed as a producer, as he was for Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers.)
Little Fockers continues the saga of Greg Focker (Ben Stiller); his wife, Pam (Teri Polo, reduced to a glorified cameo); and his father-in-law from hell, Jack (De Niro). Also returning for this installment are Pam's old flame, Kevin (Owen Wilson, less funny here than in James L. Brooks' How Do You Know); Jack's wife, Dina (Blythe Danner); and Greg's parents, Bernie (Dustin Hoffman, appearing in only a few scenes) and Roz (Barbra Streisand, with less screen time than Hoffman). New to the Focker universe is drug company representative Andi Garcia (Jessica Alba), who is hawking an erectile dysfunction drug called "Sustengo." The (thin) storyline focuses on Jack's decision that Greg will become the "Godfocker" - the patriarch of the next generation of Byrnes and Fockers. In order for Greg to hold that title, however, Jack has to deem him worthy, and that requires spying and background checks. Some of the things Jack uncovers, like Greg's apparent dalliance with Andi, stoke his anger, and the simmering hostility between Jack and Greg explodes into all-out war.
Director Paul Weitz, replacing Jay Roach, culls the most humor he can from the situations, but anyone expecting start-to-finish laughter will be disappointed. No matter what your taste in humor, whether it's low-brow bodily fluid material or somewhat more sophisticated jokes, there's something here to touch the funny bone - but don't expect too much of it. The person who chortles at De Niro's 5 1/2-hour erection probably isn't going to be as amused by the Jaws parody. The hit-and-miss comedy comes in service of an inane plot with zero character development. The real problem with Little Fockers is that most of the humor found in these circumstances was explored in the first movie, Meet the Parents, including the closeness of the name "Focker" to a profane word. Meet the Fockers re-hashed these things, and Little Fockers is going for the hat trick. The only new element is Jessica Alba but, aside from providing some eye candy (she has an underwear scene), she doesn't add more beyond a vacuous smile and a chirpy demeanor.
There's not a lot to say about Little Fockers. It is what it is. It's comfort food for the masses - an unthreatening comedy with familiar faces doing pretty much the same things they have done in two previous excursions. Despite numerous sexual references and double entendres, it's not too graphic to be deemed unsuitable for older children and is at least occasionally amusing. There's no reason for this movie to exist except that its predecessors made a lot of money. By churning out this third installment, Universal is guaranteed at least a modest return on their investment (and perhaps better than that) and everyone involved stands to collect a nice check. It's a winning proposition for all except those increasingly rare movie-goers who crave a daring or original comedy that doesn't feel like a recycled sit-com.
Little Fockers (United States, 2010)
Cast: Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Blythe Danner, Teri Polo, Jessica Alba, Laura Dern
Screenplay: John Hamburg and Larry Stuckey
Cinematography: Remi Adefarasin
Music: Stephen Trask
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures