“Meet the Fockers”, the inevitable sequel to “Meet the Parents”, has a sufficient number of laughs. Surprisingly, these laughs are generated primarily by just two of the stars and they are not the same people who caused all of the laughter in the original.
Two years later, Greg and Pam (Ben Stiller and Teri Polo) are still engaged and anxious to set a wedding date. Before they can move forward, they have to introduce Pam’s parents, Jack and Dina (Robert DeNiro and Blythe Danner), to Greg’s parents, Bernie and Roz (Dustin Hoffman and Barbara Streisand). The plan is that Greg and Pam will meet Jack and Dina at their home and fly to Florida together. Upon arrival at Casa Byrnes, they learn that Jack has purchased a super customized motor home and they will drive down to Florida together. They also meet Jack’s grandson, by Pam’s sister. Jack has taken an obsessive interest in his grandson, Little Jack, going so far as to teach him sign language and communicating with the baby. Greg knows that the meeting will probably be awkward and tries to prepare his parents, two free-thinking liberals who are a sex-therapist and a stay-at-home father.
In “Meet The Parents”, Jay Roach crafted a hilarious comedy of errors about a nervous young man going home to meet his girlfriend’s parents. Every time Greg tried to become part of the family, his nervousness or Jack’s watchful eye caused him to make some mistake. The events escalated until Greg was setting fire to a hand-crafted gazebo or beaning the bride-to-be with a volleyball.
“Parents” was a wildly successful film and proved to the world that DeNiro, known for his work in dramas and action films, has a place in comedy as well. Because of its success, a sequel was pretty much inevitable. “Fockers” generates a lot of laughter, but these are almost all created by the work of Dustin Hoffman and Barbara Streisand.
The filmmakers have shifted the focus that made “Parents” so funny. In the original, all of the laughs came from Greg’s unease with Jack. In “Fockers”, all of the laughs come from Jack’s (and to a lesser extent, Greg’s) unease with Bernie and Roz. Bernie and Roz, products of the 60s, are the type of people who were overjoyed when Greg lost his virginity, at 15, to the Latino housekeeper. So overjoyed in fact, that they invite her back to help with the welcome home dinner, and to meet Jack and Dina.
Hoffman, in particular, and Streisand seem to have a great time playing these characters. Greg has inflated the truth about each of his parents, to make them seem more impressive in Jack’s eyes. Bernie is a lawyer and Roz is a doctor, at least as Greg relays the message. In truth, Bernie quit his practice to stay at home and become Mr. Mom to Greg and Roz is a sex therapist to senior citizens. Because Hoffman and Streisand work so well together, they create the same effect as watching DeNiro in the first film. Much of the laughter comes from watching actors known for their great work in dramas letting loose in a comedy. There is something exhilarating about watching Hoffman play everything for laughs.
Everyone else basically plays the “straight man”, setting up the jokes. In a few cases, they aren’t taking on this role intentionally. A scene in which Jack injects Greg with truth serum is spectacularly unfunny, but Stiller manages to wrench a few laughs out of it. DeNiro isn’t so lucky.
Let’s talk about DeNiro for a moment. DeNiro has always been a busy actor. Most years, you can expect to see him in two or three films. In the past, I have always felt that he took on certain roles for the challenge of playing a different character. For instance in 1998, he made “Ronin” and “Great Expectations”. “Expectations” was more or less a supporting role for him, but “Ronin” was a great action film. In 2000, he made “Men of Honor”, “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle” and “Meet The Parents”. A mixed batch to be sure, but “Meet The Parents” stands out as a very good comedy. Lately, he just seems to be on a money grab; making sequels, bad horror films and terrible comedies, banking on his name to earn him large paychecks. Is he broke or something? Worried about retirement? I don’t know, but how else would you explain the actor taking roles in “Showtime”, “Godsend”, “Analyze That”, “Shark Tale” and “Hide and Seek”? It’s the great DeNiro money grab.
The problem with “Fockers” is that it tries to redo many of the same situations that were so funny in the first film. In the sequel, we have a beloved family Chihuahua, in addition to Jack’s cat. Of course the cat came along for the ride, they’re in a mobile home. Jack redirects most of his obsessive tendencies from his cat to his grandson, Little Jack. Of course, Greg will get into trouble when he watches Little Jack. Also, since we are familiar with the formula from the first film (every thing Greg tries to do right will spiral out of control and make him look bad), we know what to look for and aren’t that surprised.
“Meet The Fockers” has a few laughs in it, and is best when we get to watch Hoffman and Streisand have fun.