Several gross-out gags in Meet the Fockers, namely a fondue bit, rocket beyond even American Pie boundaries of bad taste.
And there’s a drastic overuse of a child as comedic fodder. Overachieving toddler Little Jack’s rascally laugh is a small annoyance, but his excitement at female breasts is particularly grotesque.
But the reason those problems stick out so greatly is that the rest of Fockers is good enough to cast out the recent sequel stench lingering with Bridget Jones, Blade and Danny Ocean’s crew.
Like Ocean’s Twelve, Fockers has big-name casting boosts (Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand) that add to the already-there appeal (Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro). Unlike that film, the importance of an ensemble is understood. Well, for everyone except Teri Polo, still just window dressing.
By channeling the kvetching genius of Stiller’s father, Jerry, Hoffman hasn’t been this intentionally funny since his brief role as Mumbles in Dick Tracy. The amusingly gruff De Niro contributes a wonderful grace note of physical comedy. The two veteran actors’ characters are best personified in a third-act sight gag involving a peaceful protest and an RV.
Stiller impresses with a surprising appearance as the straight man. It’s nice to see Streisand cutting loose in a pretension-free project. And even Blythe Danner is thrown several comic bones.
The surprises suggested in the story are intriguing, even if the film ultimately lacks the guts to follow through. One resolution smacks of a giggly joke Stiller tossed out while goofing on the set.
Fockers doesn’t start out with promise. Randy Newman’s song about marriage sounds like sad self-parody. There are more jokes about Greg (Stiller) being a male nurse and his unfortunate last name. (OK, so that’s three obvious joke problems the movie ultimately overcomes.)
But an opening-credits subversion of Greg’s unending bad luck in the original sets the tone nicely here. With fiancée Pam (Polo), he journeys to Miami with future in-laws Jack (De Niro) and Dina (Danner) so they can meet his parents before the wedding. In tow is Jack and Dina’s grandson, Little Jack, who is to Jack in the sequel as toilet-flushing cat Mr. Jinx was to him in the original.
Let’s just say Greg has over-advertised father Bernie (Hoffman) and mother Roz (Streisand) in their lawyer and doctor professions.
The blend of frank sexuality and the Miami locale generates a more-than-passing resemblance to The Birdcage. An oversexed housekeeper even plays into the story. And by paring down the players, Roach streamlines the nearly two-hour movie into a breezy affair. Even Stiller comes visibly close to losing it with laughter in one of the final scenes of the film.
But Fockers also is sturdier and more realistic in plot points than its predecessor, namely the awkwardness involved in caustic conversations about child rearing. As funny as Hoffman is, his face shows genuine hurt at the parental putdowns De Niro lobs his way. And Stiller shows genuine anxiety at not living up to impossible expectations from either set of in-laws.
Even though it stretches too thin sometimes, Fockers is a sequel that works at levels similar to and different from its source and another a comedic meeting you won’t mind taking.