Theatrical Review: LITTLE FOCKERS

Kate Erbland

by: Kate Erbland
December 20th, 2010

Rating: 1.5/5

Writers: John Hamburg and Larry Stuckey, Greg Glienna and Mary Ruth Clarke (characters)
Director: Paul Weitz
Cast: Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Dustin Hoffman, Teri Polo, Barbra Streisand, Blythe Danner
Studio: Universal Pictures

As 2010 wears on and the local multiplexes fill with equal parts wretched misfire and late-entry awards bait, I’ve started evaluating films with one kick-off criteria – does this film’s very existence offend me? And while LITTLE FOCKERS did not offend, it did one worse – it bored me.

The first entry in the now-stale franchise, MEET THE PARENTS, worked perfectly fine as a standalone film. Despite a number of overblown characters and ridiculous situations, the film hummed along because, underneath all that ludicrousness, there was a kernel of truth. Most people could relate to Greg Focker’s (Ben Stiller) plight – the very worst of worst case scenarios when meeting a significant other’s family. Jack Byrnes’ (Robert De Niro) insanity was at least somewhat believable back then – he was “losing” both of his daughters to other men, he was bored in retirement, he needed some sort out of outlet after years of spy work. Surely, these two would clash. Almost ten years, another sequel, a marriage, and a set of twins later, it’s hard to believe they haven’t figured each other out (or simply gotten over it)

LITTLE FOCKERS at least attempts to open with some coherence, easing us back into the characters and setting up some real-world issues for them to handle. Greg and Pam have two kids (young twins Samantha and Henry) and are getting ready to move into a new house. Greg has a good position as a hospital administrator (no longer “just” a nurse), and Pam seems happy enough as homemaker. In Jack’s world, though, things are a bit dicier. Jack has suffered a (secret) heart attack, most likely brought on by the stress of oldest daughter’s Deb’s divorce from good ol’ Dr. Bob.

So what’s Jack to do when faced with his own imminent death? Why, ask Greg if he is prepared to lead the family once he shuffles off this mortal coil, if he is ready to be (I wish I did not have write this word, I really do) the Byrnes family “God-focker.” That’s all well and good, until we remember that there is a male Byrnes heir, perma-stoned little brother Denny. But, as we never see Denny in this outing, we can only assume that he has, as the kids say, smoked himself retarded (and potentially sterile). Greg has, in his own way, been waiting for this moment since he first met Jack. Let’s watch as all the normal issues get tossed out the window, and everything goes downhill (with a bullet) in the further misadventures of the Focker-Byrnes clan.

LITTLE FOCKERS feels as if it’s stolen every beat from MEET THE PARENTS, which is fine and to be expected from a sequel, but it still guarantees that every laugh (and, yes, there are a few) will only feel like déjà vu. Will Jack test Greg? Yes. Will Greg bite? Yes. Will everything get ridiculously fumbled? Yes. Will we be forced to watch two actors better than these roles duke it out for a third time? You know the answer. Jack has ratcheted his nuttiness up to unbelievable and bizarre levels, and Greg clearly has bigger issues than we may have once thought (his reversion to behaviors nearly a decade old when faced with Jack’s presence only highlight that).

Beyond Stiller and De Niro, the rest of the cast is relegated to something resembling a expanded cameo, with Teri Polo and Blythe Danner reprising their respective lady-Byrnes roles in the same pitch they’ve always played them. Greg’s parents, Roz and Bernie (Barbra Streisand and Dustin Hoffman), pop up infrequently to talk about sex and Spain. Owen Wilson’s Kevin is still fundamentally weird, obsessed with both Pam and Eastern medicine. Jessica Alba plays a pharmaceutical rep who taps Greg to help sell a new erectile dysfunction drug to a hotel banquet room full of doctors. Of course, when you throw a sexy actress and a boner drug into a FOCKER mix, it’s pretty obvious where the film’s main misunderstandings and snags will come from. Alba does good work here – if we are to believe that it was work to make her “Andi Garcia” (you read that right) borderline deranged, repugnant, and frequently just frightening. At least Alba matches the off-the-rails, yet still strangely boring, feeling of the rest of the film.

LITTLE FOCKERS also doesn’t shy away from using lowest common denominator humor – blood and poop and boners and vomit, all the tricks of truly gutless comedy – to try to pull in the laughs. Whereas something like the destruction and desecration of Jack’s mother’s ashes in MEET THE PARENTS was at least funny because it was somewhat bold, nothing in LITTLE FOCKERS surprises or shocks. It’s this season’s entry into MULTIPLICITY cinema – a copy of a copy of a copy of something that was once funny, and is now just unapologetically flat.

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