WFTB Score: 6/20
The plot: With their wedding a few short months away, Gaylord Focker and his fiancée Pam Byrnes set out for a weekend introducing their respective parents to each other, with Pam’s nephew Little Jack in tow. The couple’s love is strong enough to withstand the clash of cultures between the Fockers’ easy lifestyle and Pam’s Dad Jack’s incessant discipline: but is it strong enough to withstand Jack’s anger at Pam being pregnant before marriage, or the news that the child may not be Gaylord’s first?
Two questions will be sufficient to answer the question ‘Is this my kind of movie?’ Firstly, are you glad Bobby De Niro has largely forsaken serious acting to enjoy himself in comedy roles? And secondly, do you find the name Gaylord Focker laugh-out-loud funny, even after two hours of hearing it? If the answer to both of these is a hearty yes, then yes, Meet the Fockers is exactly your kind of movie.
Following on from the insanely successful Meet the Parents, nurse Gaylord Focker (Ben Stiller) is now accepted, if not warmly embraced, as part of Pam Byrnes’ (Teri Polo) family. As part of the wedding preparations, The Byrnes – recently-retired CIA man Jack (De Niro) and his quietly despairing wife Dina (Blythe Danner) – are due to meet Gaylord’s parents, but instead of flying into Miami they choose to drive in a state-of-the-art motorhome, taking their grandson and Pam’s nephew Little Jack along for the ride.
As big Jack is a straight-down-the-line All-American Guy, Gaylord’s a bit worried about how he will react to his parents, and with good reason; his father Bernard (Dustin Hoffman) is a touchy-feely former househusband who celebrates his son’s mediocrity, and his wife Roz (Barbra Streisand) an even more touchy-feely geriatric sex therapist. Between their different outlooks on life, sex, self-expression and parenting, and the Byrnes’ cat and the Fockers’ over-sexed dog, the collision of worlds could hardly be more violent – and that’s before Isabel the housekeeper shows up, Gaylord’s first sexual partner and mother to a familiar-looking son who sets Jack’s investigative senses tingling. In the midst of all this, Jack is oblivious to the fact that his darling daughter is expecting her own child: and nobody wants to break the news.
The potential for humour in having heavyweights like De Niro and Hoffman play out the battle of competing ideologies is massive, so it’s a huge disappointment that the film fails to use them properly. While De Niro’s deadpan toughness from the first film is undermined with indignities such as wearing a prosthetic breast (to feed little Jack) and having Barbra Streisand on top of him attempting to pummel away his stress, Hoffman is allowed to get away with such a loose, free-wheeling performance that you expect him to wink at the camera every time he’s on screen. Worse, the culture clash is constantly broken up by crass comedy, such as the Fockers’ dog humping Dina’s foot or Little Jack’s Einstein puppet, or in a supposed highlight getting flushed down a portaloo by the cat, causing everyone to get covered in blue stuff.
Consider also the scene that ends with Stiller falling backwards off a chair, and the one featuring Hoffman falling backwards over a table, and you have some idea of how hard the writers worked to craft the jokes – and that’s not even counting the non-stop sniggering about Gaylord’s name or profession (alright, I’ll admit it, I did laugh at the ‘Wall of Gaylord’ and Pam becoming Pamela Martha Focker, but that’s it).
Even if you find old foreskins falling in the fondue or Hoffman mid-evacuation on the toilet comedy gold, you will probably find the plot over-burdened. In addition to all the culture-clash stuff we have Pam announcing she’s pregnant and the whole subplot of bosomy housekeeper Isabel and Jorge’s parentage, finally giving Jack the chance to unleash his CIA gadgets as he tries to prove Gaylord’s the father. On top of this there’s Roz’s determination to put the spark back into Jack and Dina’s moribund love-life; and on top of that is the presence of Little Jack, big Jack’s determination to bring him up in a certain way and Gaylord accidentally presenting him with his first word: ‘asshole.’
No doubt the child was put into the script with the idea of his innocent rudeness and facial reactions being adorably cute and funny, but I found him an unnecessary contrivance which added little to an already lumbering film. Meet the Fockers is far too long for a comedy and Roach would have been well-advised to lose little Jack at an early stage – though that would have cost him the De Niro breast gag. Even so, he could have easily cut quarter of an hour (most of the circle of trust stuff, the unfunny arrest/Taser sequence) and improved the pacing of the film markedly.
I haven’t mentioned Ben Stiller, and although he only gets to ‘do’ crazy when he’s slipped a dose of truth serum (or truth and crassness serum, as it seems to be), he is a solid and amiable presence. Unfortunately for Polo, the role of Pam is consistently thankless, since she’s hopelessly forgiving no matter what happens, but both she and Blythe Danner as her mother hinge the film in reality, while Barbra Streisand is surprisingly believable as Mrs Focker (though this is in the context of Hoffman’s antics). Luke Wilson also briefly reprises his role from Meet the Parents and is quite funny, though not because of anything he’s given to say.
And this is the major frustration with Meet the Fockers: it’s okay, but with the quality of actor available it’s a crime that the film lets Hollywood superstars do as they please with such cheap and uninspired jokes. Though this perhaps explains the performances of De Niro and Hoffman, the former not breaking sweat and the latter playing the fool: without them, the movie’s barely worth seeing at all.