Poor Relation


Meet the Fockers is as funny as one's willingness to laugh at the implied naughtiness of the title characters' family name, and then endure 110 minutes of riffs on the same joke.

Me, I've got a life to live.

Still, the real tragedy here is not what director Jay Roach, his team of screenwriters and a cast of Oscar winners do, but what they fail to do - which is, come up with a film as funny, enjoyable and naughty as Meet the Parents, the surprise 2000 hit to which this is the inevitable sequel.

In that film, poor Gaylord "Greg" Focker's name was a simple throwaway joke, one of many to be enjoyed from a film that played on both the unavoidable terror of that first meeting with one's future in-laws and the emotional chasm between Greg's happy-go-lucky persona and the CIA-agent macho of his father-in-law-to-be, Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro, whose career regrettably has devolved to parodies of his once-rugged, twisted dramatic roles).

Here, the name's the game, and it grows tiresome awfully darn quick. Even with Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand on hand to play the parental Fockers (whose relationship boils down to yet another winking reference to the name), the movie mines few other sources of humor and finds no other raison d'etre.

Two years have passed since Greg and his fiancee, Pam (Teri Polo, who barely registers), met and the events of the first film played out. Jack hasn't exactly become one of Greg's bigger fans, but the two at least have reached a sort of detente. The time has come to set a date for the wedding, and for that, all the Byrneses and all the Fockers are going to have to get together, for the first time.

The bankruptcy of the movie's script is evinced early on, when Greg has to endure an interminable answering-machine message while calling his parents (who, like everyone else over 50 and the subject of a Hollywood movie, can't figure how to program such a machine - did Jay Leno know what he was starting when he first made that observation over a decade ago?). The joke's funny the first time, but dispensable the third. Get used to it; nothing approaching wit in Meet the Fockers is used less than thrice; most would be lucky if used as few times as that.

And so the Byrneses and Greg set off for Florida, driving Jack's armor-reinforced RV. When they get there, Greg's parents prove the ultra-reserved Jack's worst nightmare, touchy-feely grown-up hippies who wouldn't know the word stifle if it were embedded on their foreheads. Mom Roz (Streisand) is a sex therapist for senior citizens, while dad Bernie (Hoffman) is a former lawyer who gave up his practice to become a full-time dad (Jack calls him "Mr. Mom," and not with affection).

Greg has pleaded with his parents to play it cool for the weekend by not telling the Byrneses all about themselves (especially not what Roz does for a living) and by not subjecting Jack to the full fury of their anything-goes lifestyle. They agree, but of course find such restraint impossible. Jack, meanwhile, feels like he's surrounded by insane people. Much hilarity ensues.

Oh, how sad it is to see such fine actors struggle so mightily to inject some sort of professionalism into such a lame exercise. Hoffman, especially, attacks his role with brio, forcing a smile from audiences who, at the least, must admire his enthusiasm. Streisand, in a rare screen appearance that suggests it may be a long time before there's another one (certainly, she deserves better), is reduced to wearing whipped cream on her breasts for laughs. Har.

There are laughs in Meet the Fockers, most arising from such sure-fire yuck-generators as a dog that tries to hump everything it encounters (including a cat), an obscenity-spewing toddler and a clueless cop with a badge and an attitude. Yeah, you'll laugh, but here's betting you'll hate yourself.

Meet the Fockers? Avoid them would be a better suggestion.

Meet the Fockers

Starring Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand

Directed by Jay Roach

Released by Universal Pictures

Rated PG-13 (crude and sexual humor, language and a brief drug reference)

Time 110 minutes

Sun Score *1/2

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