Mark Reviews Movies

MEET THE FOCKERS

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Jay Roach

Cast: Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Barbara Streisand, Blythe Danner, Teri Polo

MPAA Rating:  (for crude and sexual humor, language and a brief drug reference)

Running Time: 1:54

Release Date: 12/22/04



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Review by Mark Dujsik

How many jokes can be culled out of the name Focker? If you find the name in itself amusing, then Meet the Fockers is the movie for you. I for one do, and that might say certain things about me. Be that as it may, the sequel to Meet the Parents does little to alter the formula of the original, but the two films set a nice example of successful use of the concept of theme and variation. The original dealt with the pressure one man feels attempting to live up to the expectations of his future father-in-law, and now the same man has to impress upon the near-future father-in-law that he comes from good stock. The comedic theme is embarrassment, and here the idea is expanded upon by introducing the future in-laws to the natural parents. There's a culture clash, which, based on the results of the last election, has a certain timeliness, and the conservative former government employee is about to meet two products of counterculture. The jokes are obvious and sometimes a bit indirect to the material, but screenwriters John Hamburg and Jim Herzfeld, who penned the original film, maintain the central conflict, with the help of some inspired casting.

The big day is coming for Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) and Pam Byrnes (Teri Polo), but before anything can come to pass, Greg has to introduce his family to the Byrneses. Pam's father Jack (Robert De Niro) is still the tough customer, and he already throws their plans off by insisting they travel down to Florida by RV. Along for the ride is his wife Dina (Blythe Danner) and their grandson little Jack (Spencer and Bradley Pickren), and Grandpa Jack wants to make sure that the Byrnes legacy can live on with a Focker as part of the clan. The pressure is now back on Greg, who, after enduring humiliation after humiliation, ended up in Jack's coveted "Circle of Trust," but he's having a difficult time contacting his parents to properly prepare them for the test that's to ensue. Upon arriving at Focker Island, Greg's father Bernie (Dustin Hoffman) immediately makes an uncomfortable impression upon Jack by showing more affection than he's used to, and his mother Roz (Barbara Streisand) doesn't quite understand that her job as a sex therapist for seniors will probably make Jack even more uncomfortable.  Best/worst of all is the news that Pam is pregnant—a fact that has to be kept from Jack.

Needless to say, these aren't the only complications Greg will face, and some of them admittedly feel jammed into the central thrust of the material. There's an amusing bit involving the Fockers' maid Isabel (Alanna Ubach), in which Bernie reveals to the entire party at dinner that he was Greg's first sexual experience. That scene has the feel of a comedy of manners, which was the crux of the success of the original film, although the development turns into a subplot involving her fatherless son Jorge (Ray Santiago), who looks a lot like Greg. Jack's convinced he's Greg's illegitimate son, and that he's been covering it up from the family Byrnes. Thus ensues an investigation, thanks to Jack's old CIA contacts. The situational joke seems out of place amidst the rest of the broad character gags, but it does culminate in a funny climax where Greg gives a revealing speech while on sodium pentathol. And one has to wonder how desperate writers are when a baby is added into the mix, but a running gag involving little Jack's ability to communicate through sign language works, especially when confronted with Isabel's, um, assets. His first word is also a hoot.

The main element that makes the material work is the battle between the Byrnes and Focker's respective ways of life, and the way the interactions between the two sides reveal other levels of the specific characters. Roz' work attracts the attention of Dina, who comes to realize that she isn't too happy with keeping intimacy with her husband to a yearly event, and, against Greg's wishes, she significantly analyzes Jack's character throughout his stay. Meanwhile, Bernie struggles to control his tendency to blab about inappropriate things at inappropriate times, which leads to a mishap with Greg's foreskin, which was saved in his baby book, but he also has to contend with Jack's attitude toward his role as a stay-at-home dad. That leads to a slightly more painful mishap during a friendly game of football. The casting of Dustin Hoffman and Barbara Streisand helps add an edge to the fairly obvious characterizations, and Hoffman especially garners laughs as an overly proud father. Robert De Niro continues to give Jack an understated judgmental nature, and Ben Stiller helps level the playing field by keeping himself unobtrusively uncomfortable throughout the proceedings.

The cast raises the bar for the material, hitting the right comic notes throughout and compensating for whatever failings the script hands them. For all its formula and stretching of material, though, Meet the Fockers ultimately succeeds because it's funny. Or maybe it's only funny if you're like me and think a last name that's one letter off from vulgarity is amusing.

Copyright © 2005 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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