Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro make money for, I’m guessing, kids’ college tuitions and vacation homes by a beach somewhere with Little Fockers, the cringey third movie in the cringey Meet the Parents series.
Hey, who among us is too good for college tuition money and vacation homes?
Greg Focker (Stiller), the beleaguered son-in-law of former CIA agent Jack Byrnes (De Niro), is now the father of twin five-year-olds and an administrator at his hospital. Sure, he and wife Pam (Teri Polo) might not have a lot of time for each other and his children — tough, Jack-like daughter Sam (Daisy Tahan) and shy, awkward son Henry (Colin Baiocchi) — are kinda weird and in need of expensive private schooling, but Greg’s life is going OK. And it may go even better if he accepts the offer from smokin’ hot drug rep Andi Garcia (Jessica Alba) to do some pimping of an ED drug on the side. Greg’s status in his wife’s nutty family may even have improved due to the infidelity of her sister’s seemingly perfect husband Dr. Bob (Tom McCarthy). In fact things are looking so good that when Jack has a heart problem, he tells only Greg — not even his wife Dina (Blythe Danner) — and asks Greg to assume the mantle of head of the family.
The “Godfocker,” if you will.
This would be the first big hands-in-front-of-the-eyes, forehead creasing, full-body cringe moment.
So when Jack and Dina come out to visit, Jack keeps particularly close watch on Greg — making sure he’s manly enough to take care of the extended family. Naturally, Kevin (Owen Wilson) reappears with his flaky mystic talk and his large bank account to make Jack doubt whether Pam chose the right man. Of course there is some confusion about exactly the nature of Greg’s relationship with Andi. And every time Greg and Co. meet with expensive private school headmaster Prudence (Laura Dern) some sort of wackiness ensues. And then just when the comedy gets so silly that you don’t think you can stand it, Greg’s parents — the stay-at-home-dad Bernie (Dustin Hoffman) and the sex advice show host Roz (Barbra Streisand) — show up.
What exactly is the line that separates a cringe from the fetal position?
Here’s why I think I cringe at all this — everybody can do so much better. From De Niro’s stern-face shtick to Ben Stiller’s haplessness, everything is several notches below where it should be with a cast as potentially strong as this one. (And even in spite of everything, I found myself kinda liking Danner, Streisand and Hoffman.) There are moments here and there of humor — when Jack utters a muffled “Focker” and bystanders wonder why he’s swearing, when Kevin mentions the Buddha and Greg finally calls him on his exaggerated “spirituality.” Even Jessica Alba’s strange performance has its moments. But the movie always picks the lazy way to work its humor. Instead of letting a joke build, it just repeats the joke over and over (the “Godfocker” label, in particular). It sets up for Stiller a Job-like level of suffering but doesn’t do anything with it — it acts like he’s just a regular person in a regular situation without either acknowledging the nuttiness or playing it straight and leaning into the nuttiness. Every time it gets near some real funny, it always fizzles out and I am left like a person staring into a light, trying to make myself sneeze. (Or go blind. That, in this case, would be fine.)
More than anything, Little Fockers is a disappointment and not even worth serving as a middle-ground, take-the-whole-family movie when other options are available.
Rated PG-13 for mature sexual humor throughout, language and some drug content. Directed by Paul Weitz and written by John Hamburg and Larry Stuckey from characters by Greg Glienna and Mary Ruth Clarke, Little Fockers is one hour and 38 minutes long and opens in wide release on Wednesday, Dec. 22.