Directed by Paul Weitz
At the beginning of the decade, Robert De Niro’s reinvention as a loveable, mafia-scented grandpa-type and Ben Stiller’s mastery of the timid straight man created a perfect stormof pre-9/11 in-flight comedy. Even granting that a movie about Robert De Niro being a father-in-law could basically write itself, Meet the Parents is a gem whose cringe-worthy scenes are still funny ten years later.
In movie two, Meet the Fockers, we find out that Greg Focker’s (Ben Stiller) parents are Barbara Streisand and Dustin Hoffman. This, then, was a another movie whose uncomfortable plot twists and poop jokes were predictable , yet comfortable; of course his mom was a sex therapist and his Dad keeps a scrapbook containing his son’s dried up foreskin, and what would the movie be without a few Jew jokes and some mild poop humor for the boys in the back? Still, though some jokes were recycled, Fockers achieved success on the terms of prior comedy sequels, adding new treats while keeping the old slapstick alive for those afraid of change.
In Little Fockers, De Niro’s return as the crazed ex-CIA Grandpa Jack Byrnes is cartoony at worst and cartoony at best, but the beauty of the movie, and what makes it — dare I say it —a great movie to watch over the holidays, is that it doesn’t rely on familiarity alone. The movie opens with Jack Byrnes calling the crazed Focker household during dinnertime. The actual Little Fockers are twins —a late bloomer boy and wickedly smart girl —who enact their genetic legacies by projectile and spying. Byrnes, over the phone, tells Greg that he needs to step up his game as a father and patriarch to become “The GodFocker.” Slow accordion music plays, and there follows much face-grabbing, cheek-kissing, and jokes about taking the canolli.
Though these count as doubly recycled jokes, Stiller asserts himself as the GodFocker and plays the hand-kissing gags with ease. The relationship between Greg and Jack borders on sitcom knee-slapping, reminiscent of Jerry and Newman’s familiar adversarial banter, making it all the more devastating when Jack tells his daughter that she made the wrong choice and should have wed hippie investment banker Kevin Rawley (Owen Wilson). But instead of kissing ass, Greg spends the rest of the movie proving that he can take care of his family and be a loving father and son in law. With a little help from his quirky, uber-famous parents of course.
In their permanent stardom, De Niro, Hoffman, and Streisand make the viewer feel like she’s spending time with old friends (Jessica Alba, another mega-star, is also on hand, but she and I have never been that great of friends. Laura Dern, however, who makes a cameo as the director of an expensive private school called “The Early Human,” is more than welcome at all my birthday parties). De Niro has been taking his vitamin B and takes risks with physical comedy: he manages to have two hilariously executed heart attacks(one in which he defibrillates himself with his own polygraph and the other following a romp through a Chuck. E. Cheese ball pit). Hoffman, who is absent most of the movie, has a 100% line to laugh ratio, and Streisand is her let’s-tawk-about-sex self, peppering all phrases with a little Yiddish wisdom and a shake of her spectacular cleavage. Thus, the spell of all-star movies is cast, and the audience wishes that everyone in Little Fockers was real, so we could invite these old friends to eat Christmas dinner with us.
Opens December 22