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Meet the Fockers
Director: Jay Roach
Cast: Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand
ithin Hollywood there exists a bankable subgenre whose sole function is to place Ben Stiller in gut-wrenchingly embarrassing situations. Semen dangles from his ear. His genitals get caught in a zipper. He desecrates Grandma’s ashes. He floods the yard with septic fluid. He noisily suffers the gastrointestinal consequences of too much spicy food.
Stiller has done a sporting job of playing straight man to all manners of uncomfortable lunacy, relishing his duty as a punching bag while knowing that a hefty paycheck will reward his efforts. And so it is with Meet the Fockers, an entirely unnecessary, though inevitable, sequel to 2000’s Meet the Parents and by far the least-inspired piece of Stiller-centric comic sadism we’ve seen thus far.
But it manages to add some choice humiliations to his already impressive résumé. Here, Stiller, reprising his Greg/Gaylord “Gay” Focker role, is head-butted by a baby. He inadvertently drinks breast milk. His dried foreskin ends up in the fondue. At one point, for no clear reason, he falls backwards out of his chair. If any of this stuff sounds remotely funny, then by all means go see Meet the Fockers.
For the love of God, avert your eyes.
The story picks up with Greg and Pam (Teri Polo), still engaged, getting ready to, as the title suggests, get the in-laws together for the first time. Along for the trip are Pam’s tightly wound parents, Jack and Dina Byrnes (Robert De Niro, Blythe Danner), and their toddler grandson. Greg is eager to remain inside Jack’s “circle of trust” and fears, justifiably, that his freewheeling ex-hippie parents (Dustin Hoffman, Barbara Streisand), will Fock everything up.
Naturally, the families’ respective red- and blue-state sensibilities are oil and water. Or oil and patchouli. Jack freaks out when he hears the Fockers’ cries of whipped-cream-facilitated passion. The Fockers balk at Jack’s unaffectionate approach to grandparenting. The baby learns his first word—“asshole”—and fulfills his obligation to the story, which is to make the audience squirm on Stiller’s behalf. Eventually, life lessons are learned, differences are reconciled and the ending is (spoiler alert!) happy.
Fockers could have been a presentable if forgettable film had the script not been so lazily assembled and the cast not taken for granted. Combined, the elder performers have been nominated for 15 Academy Awards for acting (I had my intern do some research). Streisand withstands the ordeal without sacrificing too much dignity. As for De Niro and Hoffman, “slumming” is putting it gently. Hoffman in particular is miscast as Greg’s father. His overly affectionate, easygoing character is a hard sell as the parent of such a neurotic child, and Hoffman understandably can’t muster the enthusiasm to make it convincing. Why not put Jerry Stiller in that role?
Much to Hoffman's chagrin, De Niro never does drop the soap.
Blame this entire mess on screenwriters Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg, for whom a dream cast provided insufficient incentive to avoid the standard, boring trappings of a sequel. As such, every remotely funny joke from Meet the Parents is recycled and beaten into the ground. The fact that the main character is named Gay Focker is milked for ample comic mileage, turning a mildly amusing punch line from the first film into a tedious running gag this time around. We hear about his cousins, Randy and Orney Focker. Again, if this has you rolling on the floor, head for the theater.
The maddening box-office success of Meet the Fockers makes an interesting case study on the wide and expanding chasm of opinion between people who consume pop culture actively and those who enjoy it passively. Since most Stylus readers certainly belong to the former category, you don’t need me to tell you that Fockers is a rank, festering mountain of shit. You probably figured that out by watching the previews, which prominently feature a dog being flushed down a toilet.
By and large, watching Fockers is like walking in on your parents having sex—embarrassing and marginally funny, but nothing you’d want to sit through for two hours.
By: Troy Reimink
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