Sunday, January 2, 2011


After "Austin Powers" helmer Jay Roach made the first two Mike Myers retro-1960s spy spoofs, he made a completely different comedy "Meet the Parents" (2000) that spawned another profitable big-ticket franchise. Roach followed up the hilarious “Parents” with an even bigger and funnier sequel "Meet the Fockers" (2004) which coined nearly $300-million at the box office. These two lowest common denominator farces focused on the foul-ups that a WASP-Jewish couple made as they sought to accommodate their diametrically-opposite in-laws. The raunchy wit of Roach and his scribes and the terrific performances of Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller respectively as patriarch and prospective son-in-law fueled the humor. Now, Roach has handed “Little Fockers” (** out of ****) and the franchise over to "American Pie" director Paul Weitz. As talented as Weitz is, he lacks Roach's sense of humor. Indeed, Universal Studios had to negotiate with co-star Dustin Hoffman to retain his services for this largely lackluster sequel. Reportedly, Hoffman hated the soporific screenplay and lamented Roach's departure. Nevertheless, the “Rain Man” star showed up for six scenes. One major advantage of “Little Fockers” is that Universal lured back the original cast. You can always tell when a franchise is falling apart by the absence of original cast members. The filmmakers devote a large part of their 98 minute running time to the logistics of shuffling characters in and out of the complicated story, particularly the peripheral characters. Owen Wilson, Barbara Streisand, and Dustin Hoffman reappear, but they occupy strictly supporting roles.

Primarily, "Little Fockers" amounts to a fair-to-middling farce with a shortage of gross-out gags. Indeed, it pales by comparison with the zany original and the laugh riot sequel that featured a surfeit of infantile humor. The projectile vomit scene and the penile injection scene are the funniest scenes in this bland sequel. Sadly, "Meet the Fockers" suffers from one of its own comic plot devices--erectile-dysfunction--because it is hard-up for humor. “Meet the Parents” scenarist John Hamburg and newcomer Larry Stuckey spend more time on the complications than the comedy of errors. Predictably, they exploit the obscene-sounding surname of Ben Stiller's character for standard snickers. Meanwhile, they have contrived yet another lame confrontation between a straight-faced but scowling Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller's sympathetic but stumbling schlemiel. Mind you, De Niro and Stiller are still very good as mortal enemies.

The biggest difference between “Little Fockers” and the two earlier films is that Gaylord Focker (Ben Stiller of “Tropic Thunder”) and Pam (Teri Polo of “The Beacon”) are married now and living in Chicago with twins, a daughter and son, Samantha (Daisy Tahan) and Henry (Colin Baiocchi), who are going to celebrate their fifth birthday. Gregg, as he prefers to be called, has landed an administrative position at a Chicago Hospital. This time around gimlet-eyed, former CIA agent Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro of “Taxi Driver”) tries to bust his son-in-law for an extramarital affair with Andi Garcia (Jessica Alba of “Machete”), a flirtatious prescription drug saleslady. She tools around in a red sports car with ‘Rx Grrrl’ on her license tag. Scenarists Hamburg and Stuckey are following up on the health-care minded lead of the recent Viagra comedy “Love and Other Drugs” with Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway. Hamburg and Stuckey combine the erectile-dysfunction issue with Jack’s weak heart condition. The erectile-dysfunction medicine here is touted as user friendly for heart patients. Jack suffers a mild heart attack, but survives it by improvising his own defibrillation paddles. Meantime, the first time that drug rep Andi meets Gregg, she likes him. When an unhappy African-American patient protests about the way that Nurse Louis (Kevin Hart of “Soul Plane”) is giving him an enema, Andi snaps on the gloves happily to help and Gregg lends a hand. Everything that they say as they administer the enema is laden with sexual innuendo. Nurse Louis is grinning in the background, while the patient is swooning. Of course, Andi becomes infatuated with Gregg and wants him to serve as a spokesman for her company. Gregg and Pam, it seems, are living with Jack and Dina (Blythe Danner) because they are having their house renovated.

This part of “Little Fockers” dovetails with Gregg and Pam’s marriage. Gregg’s mom, therapist Roz Focker (Barbara Streisand), who hosts her own talk show “Sexpress Yourself,” discusses how child rearing often interferes with a couple’s sex life. Sometimes, she says, this complication drives the man to cheat. When Jack spots the samples of the erectile-dysfunction medicine "Sustengo" in a closet, he concludes that Gregg is up to something. Gregg wants to keep his business dealings with Andi a secret because he is trying to finance the remodeling of his suburban home, and he doesn’t want anybody to know where he is getting the money. Not surprisingly, Jack interprets things the wrong way. “Little Fockers” is basically another comedy of errors. Weitz and his scenarists bring Pam’s old flame, Kevin Rawley (Owen Wilson of “Marley and Me”) back into the action because Jack is having doubts that Gregg is best for Pam. Bernie (Dustin Hoffman) is off cavorting in Seville, Spain, learning how to dance the flamenco dance because it promotes sexual health.

This uninspired three-quel qualifies as a potboiler. The complications are basically Jack spying on Gregg again, and Gregg struggling to be a responsible breadwinner without confiding in Jack. Weitz and company tack on another ineffectual subplot about the Fockers enrolling the twins in an upper-scale kindergarten, the Early Human School, that isn‘t silly enough to be funny. Actress Laura Dern plays Prudence, the head mistress who interviews both the parents and children. Pam gets sick and cannot attend the tour day, so Gregg takes along ever inquisitive Jack. Naturally, Prudence leaps to the wrong conclusion that Gregg and Jack are a gay couple. Ironically, the title suggests that the twins will drive the story. Alas, the twins remain just as peripheral as Bernie, Roz, Kevin, and Dina. “Little Fockers” is too marginal to be anything but a rental.