Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5
The male protagonist’s name is Greg Focker. Focker, geddit? Oh, and his first name is actually Gaylord. Wow. And wait, he’s a male nurse. Unbelievable. Can comedy themes explored one, twice and three times still be funny?
To quote Michelle of ‘ze resistonce’ from ‘Allo ‘Allo: Leesen very carefully, I shall say zis only wence. (A joke that recurred ad nauseam throughout the BBC series’ ten-year run.)
No. The answer is resoundingly no.
The law of diminishing returns is strikingly demonstrated in this second unwarranted sequel to what was a smart, dynamic first film of what has become the Meet the Parents (2000), or Focker, film franchise.
This economic precept may not apply to the box-office takings, as 2004’s Meet the Fockers outgrossed its predecessor to the tune of half a billion US dollars. Therein lies the reason for part three: pure profitability.
The diminishing returns are reflected in the humour and plot of this film, which even pale when compared to the lacklustre part two (which if you recall featured a potty-mouthed baby, a plastic boob, and two oversexed seniors). The long-running adversarial relationship between Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller, father-in-law to son-in-law, is tired here.
It is also nothing more than a retread of everything between the two characters that has come to pass in the series – except everyone’s just a bit older.
The story set-up of this film directed by Paul Weitz (American Pie) has Greg (Stiller) happily married to his wife Pam (Teri Polo) for a while now; their marriage has stood up to the paranoid scrutiny of her ex-CIA father Jack Byrnes (De Niro) and they now have a pair of 5-year-old twins.
But with Pam’s sister Debbie’s marriage disintegrating due to infidelity, Jack decides to step in to pre-empt any problems in Greg’s marriage. His master plan: to name Greg his successor as the Byrnes family patriarch, a vital move as his own health is failing.
With relations between Jack and Greg seemingly swell, the former dubs the latter the ‘God-Focker’ for no other reason than to milk the Focker joke once more, and to segue into middling references to The Godfather that Stiller, to his credit, sells well.
The storyline gets back into the ‘Circle of Trust’ mode, whereby Greg tries not to betray Jack’s trust, yet fails through sheer bad luck, ineptitude or over-eagerness.
The film’s premise resembles that of the hilarious sitcom Worst Week (originally British, later adapted for American TV), in which a prospective son-in-law gets caught repeatedly in strange, improbable and embarrassing circumstances despite his best intentions.
In the case of Little Fockers , there are numerous odd and less-funny scenarios, including that of a half-naked Jessica Alba, playing a scary floozy drug rep, throwing herself at Greg and both tumbling into an open pit (pits and pools in Hollywood shows tend to lead invariably to falls); as well as a turkey dinner with more blood than usual.
But in terms of well-earned laughs, there are only two I can recall, both of which involve Greg and Jack head to head: one is a potentially R-rated scene in a toilet, the other a bust-up in a hospital corridor where Greg loses his rag in classic manic Stiller fashion.
Apart from that, you have little distractions such as the sub-plot of Greg trying to get his kids into an exclusive private school run by Laura Dern, and Owen Wilson reprising his role as Pam’s ex, a flighty millionaire do-gooder Greg believes is obsessed with his wife.
Barbara Streisand and Dustin Hoffman, who was reportedly dragged kicking and screaming back into the project, return for limited screen time as Greg’s loopy hippie parents – Hoffman’s affability is missed in the main – and there’s even time for Harvey Keitel to appear as a disingenuous contractor.
Regardless, there are few genuine laughs to be shared, all the actors seem to be merely going through their paces, and one can almost hear the bottom of the barrel being scraped as we get mistakenly-gay jokes and a weak reference to Jaws.
When the situation in Little Fockers is observed in the cold light of day – the cyclical trouble with in-laws, that pesky old boyfriend of the wife showing up again, and one’s same old foibles exposed – it seems a little too much like real life and therefore more tragic than funny.
Still, if the word ‘Focker’ makes you laugh and if repetitiveness is comforting, by all means, indulge the little Focker inside of you and go see this film. But as one of the final scenes of the film suggests, there are funnier things to watch on YouTube.
Yong Shu Chiang, otherwise known as SC, is a freelance editor and writer. He reviewed movies for Juice magazine when he was in college, and was the resident film reviewer for Today Newspaper from 2003 to 2005. He has also reviewed movies for Prime Time Morning on Channel NewsAsia.