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Focking funny or Focking pointless?
Following up one of the bigger comedies of recent years, Meet the Parents, this sequel further follows the exploits of hapless schmuck Gaylord "Greg" Focker (Ben Stiller, Zoolander) and his conflicts with his fiancée's overbearing father Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro, Analyze This). After surviving the first step in the in-law process, Greg embarks on the next, even more tenuous phase: introducing Jack to his loopy parents Bernie (Dustin Hoffman, Rain Man) and Roz (Barbra Streisand, The Prince of Tides). Dogs getting flushed down toilets ensues.
Facts of the Case
The last time we saw Greg Focker was when he managed to survive a horrifying couple of days at the mercy of his ex-CIA future father-in-law. The wedding is back on track, so the next stop is Miami Beach, to meet up with Greg's parents. So Jack and Dina Byrnes, Greg and his fiancée Pam (Terri Polo), the Byrneses' infant grandson little Jack, and Jinx the cat pile into Jack's state-of-the-art RV (complete with Kevlar siding and bulletproof glass) and take to the road.
Along the way, Greg is introduced to some more of Jack's wild endeavors: the "Ferber" child-rearing strategy that deprives little Jack of any consolation; the Manary Gland, a prosthetic breast that Jack straps to his chest to dispense milk; and Jinx's newfound skill of flushing the toilet.
Eventually, the Byrneses RV pulls into the Focker residence, and from the moment Bernie and Ros (fresh off her latest sex therapy class) meet Jack Byrnes, two worlds collide. One is Planet Focker, populated by two overly amorous, clueless ex-hippies; the other Planet Byrnes, lorded over by an uptight old-fashioned hard-ass. Caught in the middle is Greg, relentlessly trying to please his soon-to-be father-in-law while trying to tame his parents (who are only too happy to show off their "Wall of Gaylord" commemorating Greg's lifetime of ninth-place finishes).
But the biggest challenge of all will be making it through the weekend without letting slip Greg and Pam's biggest secret: there may soon be another little Focker in the mix.
I liked Meet the Parents. I found it consistently funny, playing to the strengths of its cast. Ben Stiller, for me, has always been funniest playing the straight dope, the poor schmuck who is constantly assailed by ludicrous circumstances. Ben of There's Something About Mary and Meet the Parents is much funnier than schticky Ben of Zoolander and Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. And De Niro…well, he won't be parading around in eye makeup and speaking in goofy voices any time soon. In essence, the comic leads of Meet the Parents were actually two straight men. The humor arose from the improbable situations and bad luck that tormented them. The result was a solid little comedy movie that didn't do anything different but delivered consistent laughs.
Meet the Fockers takes a different approach. And it sucks. Folks, this sequel just isn't that funny. Hoffman and Streisand become the zany, animated funny people that were so refreshingly lacking from the previous movie. Bernie Focker practices the art of Brazilian dance fighting! He drives a beat-up convertible and doesn't know his way around the island! Roz Focker teaches sex therapy to the elderly! She has obscene statues in the Byrneses' guest room! Har de har!
Worse, the situational comedy, the strongest point of the predecessor, is so forced, so obviously contrived, I actually felt animosity toward the film for presenting it to me. Take, for example, the stupid "Manary Gland" gag. On paper it may have seemed high-larious to have Robert De Niro walking around with a fake breast, but on the screen, it's a laugh-free sight gag (and derivative of Seinfeld's "The Bro").
There was a moment in the trailer for this movie when I knew that I would not be attending a theater near me to partake. It's the spot with the Fockers' dog, Moses, getting flushed down a toilet, and his head swirls around and around as he gets sucked down. This scene is part of a lengthy comic sequence that has Moses chasing Jinx through the RV, Jinx flushing Moses, Bernie scrambling to rescue the dog, destroying the toilet in the process, and soaking everyone with blue toilet fluid. Well, it was obviously a central comedic set piece, but not once did I laugh.
Finally, the biggest grievance I have with this film is the inclusion of a baby—a baby that serves zero purpose other than set up lame jokes. Look, the cute baby head-butted Greg! Look, Greg is drinking the cute baby's breast milk! Look, the cute baby escaped his crib and is making a mess! Look, the cute baby is swearing! Look Who's Talking Too did baby comedy better than this. In fact, the baby is largely absent in the final third of the movie, as if the filmmakers had exhausted all potentially funny baby-centric situations and just gave up on the gimmick.
I've been pretty ruthless with the flick. Yes, it is largely unfunny, a down turn from the effective first film, and generally wasted my time, but there are some scattershot entertaining moments intertwined with the lameness. A pretty funny side plot involving Greg and a possible paternity mystery works well, and the revelation at the end elicited the biggest laugh out of me by far. And though the whole "horny dog that humps anything that moves bit" has been exhausted, the sophomoric side of me still found the scenes with Moses going at it with anything he could find amusing. Plus, there are a few gags that worked here and there, but like searching for quarters on a beach, you have to wade through a lot of tedium to find them.
This disc features two versions of the film: the theatrical cut and an extended cut, which awkwardly inserts a handful of deleted scenes of varied quality. When an added scene approaches and finishes, the picture winks out for a second. I would recommend sticking with the smoother theatrical version and just catching the deleted scenes in the special features. Trust me, you're not missing much.
Meet the Fockers boasts a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer for both versions, as well as a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. The picture holds up well, looking clear with little dirt. Colors are generally strong, despite a few washed-out moments. The 5.1 track has little to do in this dialogue-heavy film, but perks up enough for the more frantic set pieces.
Universal has piled on a hefty collection of corny extras. The aforementioned deleted scenes and the blooper reel are the highlights; watch for a funny bit featuring Stiller as a washed-up major leaguer. The rest of the offering is forgettable: "Fockers' Family Portrait" features brief, generic interviews with Hoffman, Stiller, and Streisand; "Inside the Litter Box" and "The Adventures of a Baby Wrangler" are cheesy behind-the-scenes spots about Jinx the Cat and that irritating baby; "The Manary Gland" devotes like five minutes to the conception and production of the breast prop that De Niro paraded in, which wasn't even funny; a Today Show interview with the entire cast and a fawning Matt Lauer, which is self-aggrandizing tripe; and finally, director Jay Roach and editor Jon Poll offering a relatively unengaging commentary.
Meet the Fockers is a disappointing follow-up to a funny film that probably didn't really need a sequel in the first place. It's not an entirely laugh-free experience, but the irritation-to-chortle ratio is like 10:1. Plus, it's far less family-friendly than the first, with greater emphasis placed on crude and sexual humor.
Guilty. Fock off.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with Director Jay Roach and Editor Jon Poll
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