December 22, 2004
As long as they keep making sequels to "Meet the Parents" (2001), Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) will never know peace. The best he can hope for — at least in respect to his disapproving future father-in-law (Robert De Niro) — is one short-lasting armistice after another.
So it goes in "Meet the Fockers," a cinematic case of renewed hostilities that attempts to blast laughs out of mostly empty shell casings.
At least this time, director Jay Roach ("Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery") has shifted the battlefield and added a couple of new combatants. Arriving in Florida for a pre-wedding family weekend, eagerto-please male nurse Greg (Stiller) nervously wonders how conservative, emotionally constricted Jack (De Niro) will respond to his liberal, decidedly unconstricted Jewish parents.
The early returns aren’t promising. His mother, Roz (Barbra Streisand), is a hippie Earth-mother sex therapist who uses the upstairs loft to instruct her elderly clientele. His father, Bernie (Dustin Hoffman), is a hug-a-holic peacenik who gave up a legal career to be a stay-at-home dad. Jack, naturally, thinks they’re both fruitcakes.
After last month’s presidential election, it’s hard to imagine anyone craving more red state/blue state zaniness, but Roach gamely floats it out there on a steady stream of comic misunderstandings and mishaps, some of which are just fresh enough to be funny (e.g., Greg’s alleged half-Latin love child), others of which seem like lazy formula variations of scenes from the first movie (slo-mo sports injuries, pet fiascoes).
The movie’s comic credibility is stretched to absurd extremes when Jack — obsessed with protecting his soon-to-be-married daughter (Teri Polo) — pumps Greg full of sodium pentothal, resulting in the sort of narcotic antics that have become Stiller’s speciality. Screenwriters John Hamburg and James Herzfeld aren’t above easy laughs: The script is positively soaked with Focker puns (Greg offhandedly mentions that he has cousins named "Randy" and "Orny").
Hoffman ("I Heart Huckabees") slides into the role of Bernie like corned beef on rye — excitable mensches are the man’s specialty, after all — but the real surprise of "Meet the Fockers" is Streisand’s zesty, reassuring performance as Roz, a bedroom miracle worker who helps Jack’s wife, Dina (Blythe Danner), thaw out their sexless marriage.
Notoriously selective — her last performance was in the self-directed "The Mirror Has Two Faces" (1996) — Streisand lends some much-needed mystique to "Meet the Fockers" (De Niro burned his up years ago) in a performance that hearkens back to her prediva heyday as a comic actress ("The Main Event," "What’s Up, Doc?"). Even Streisandhaters — a small but passionate minority, according to the last U.S. Census — will find her scenes jarringly funny.
You can be certain Yentl never did THAT with whipped cream.