MEET THE FOCKERS (Jay Roach, 2004)
As Greg Focker, Ben Stiller invites his fiancé’s parents to MEET THE FOCKERS. The sequel to MEET THE PARENTS again finds Greg fretting about the impression he’s making on Robert De Niro as stern future father-in-law Jack Byrnes. This time Greg worries how his free-spirited folks, played by Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand, will behave around the rigid Jack.
MEET THE PARENTS tapped the humor found in the anxiety of seeing one’s in-laws for the first time. That’s only half the battle, though. Hoping one’s own family isn’t the source of embarrassment can be just as stressful. Both films’ strength derives from the interplay between son-in-law and father-in-law. Greg’s intense desire to please and Jack’s determination to torment him make ripe comedy. Despite his best efforts Greg continues to put his foot in his mouth and walk on eggshells around Jack. When Jack asks Greg to throw a brick at his tank of an RV to prove its impenetrability, the outcome cements Jack’s seeming infallibility and Greg’s incompetence. Stiller and De Niro have mastered the slow burn and use it to good effect here. De Niro excels as the emotionally constipated Jack, scrunching up his face and tightening his posture at the latest perceived indignity.
MEET THE FOCKERS is mildly amusing on a relatively consistent basis, but joke repetition and a greater emphasis on outrageousness and vulgarity release a strong scent of the writers’ desperation. Greg’s birth name Gaylord is flogged for laughs long after it remains to be funny, and several scenes remind us of their better variations in MEET THE PARENTS. The unrelenting sex talk and forced absurdity, like the remnants of Greg’s bris ending up in the fondue pot, feel out of place in this film. MEET THE FOCKERS has its moments but plays like a less funny version of the original.
(Review first aired on the December 21, 2004 NOW PLAYING)