Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Review: Meet The Fockers (2004)

Meet the Fockers
111 min.
Rated PG-13 (crude and sexual humor, language and a brief drug reference)

by Scott Mendelson

Meet the Fockers
is a primary example of an occurrence known as “sequel unnecessaryitis”. This is, of course, what happens when a movie makes a surprisingly large amount of money and thus, a sequel is created regardless of whether there is anymore story to tell. Meet The Parents grossed close to $175 million in the US back in October of 2000, far more than anyone had anticipated (to put this in perspective, this is as much as the original Matrix grossed in 1999, a number that in that case seemed to crown The Matrix as king of the world). So of course, since Universal lacks franchises (Van Helsing was so bad and unloved by audiences, it not only killed the idea of the Van Helsing franchise, but it permanently maimed the entire Universal monsters library… whoops), we have this follow-up just in time for everyone to have more or less forgotten about the original. So, enough about why it was made, is it worth your time, and most importantly, your money? The answer to that is, probably.

Simply put,
Meet the Fockers is cheap, rehashed, overeager, strained, and wholly unnecessary. It is full of awkward, painful, wincing moments where one simply wants to close their eyes and not look at the screen. But, all that notwithstanding, it’s also pretty funny. The actors are all eager and game, and the additions to the cast actually marks an improvement, as certain cast members provide foils for characters who were short-changed the first time around. The plot, for those who missed the previews… An unknown amount of time after winning over his fiancée’s highly possessive and obsessive father, Greg Focker (Ben Stiller, generously ceding most of the comedy to his elder costars) now must introduce his future in-laws to his own parents, a pair of highly eccentric, overly emotional and coddling hippies (played with much gusto by Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand). Will the obsessively authoritarian, stereotypically ‘conservative’, and patriarchal Jack Brynes (Robert De Niro, who seems to be better in comedies than in dramas these days) be able to make peace with the, overly jolly, permissive, stereotypically ‘liberal’, and matriarchal Focker clan? Yes, ladies and gents, we know have Dharma and Greg: The Movie!

As stated in passing above, much of the movie feels rehashed from the first film. Jack doesn’t seem to have changed at all, and he is just as viciously demanding of his family and of Greg as in the first film. Greg still gets into embarrassing situations, mostly not of his own making. And Pam Brynes, the fiancée (and one could argue, the Mcguffin of this series) is still barely a shadow in the story of her life. Teri Polo has a couple good scenes, but she really fails to make a presence of her own. But again, despite that, the movie works, if only because the actors are having such fun and are all in top form. Unlike the recent
Ocean’s 12, the actors remembered to have fun IN the film, not just while making the film and publicizing the film.

There are a few noteworthy additions. First off, of course, are the new parents. While the sparring between Hoffman and De Niro is expected, although fun, the real fun comes with Streisand and Blythe Danner, as Roz Focker and Dina Brynes, respectively. Danner was as much a placeholder as Polo was in the first film, but her friendly rapport with Streisand gives her a much more vital role to play. The second major addition is that of Little Jack (played by the Pickren twins), a nephew of Jack and Dina. Again, using babies for comedy is cheap and easy, but Little Jack is used sparingly enough that his comic hits feel earned (alas, the best bit with him is given away completely in the trailer and TV spots, so try to avoid it if you can).

Despite suffering from 'sequel unnecessaryitis', this follow up is probably a better film than the slightly overrated original. With the exception of Polo, every major character is given a bit of an arc, and everyone gets to play in the comedy pool. The film is still about 20 minutes too long (the final act has an unnecessary complication, which prolongs the ending that has already been earned), and you might feel guilty for enjoying such a manufactured concoction, but a good time should be had by all. In closing, it’s a funny movie, even if it’s not a great movie. You’ll laugh, even while your brain is telling you that you’re being occasionally condescended to. So see it, enjoy it, and then go see
Sideways afterward. You can laugh just as much and feel good about yourself as a moviegoer.

Grade: B

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