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Meet the Fockers

Hollywood needs a few good editors.
How else can you explain Meet the Fockers, an overblown, bloated collection of noxious fumes weighing in at almost two hours? Cut the first mind-numbingly dull 15 minutes, the atrocious final half hour, and a few scattered unfunny scenes and you have a pretty mediocre hour-long film. A film of this type lasting only 50-odd minutes would be a breath of fresh air and not the traumatic event Meet the Fockers becomes.
Those who loved Meet the Parents will find a lot of similarities in this sequel. Not only have the characters been preserved like pickled eggs, but many of the jokes are so prepackaged that they seem like outtakes from the original film.  But while Meet the Parents was charming, poignant and occasionally even funny, Meet the Fockers is crass, stale and, worst of all, unfunny.
The film opens up two years after the events of Meet the Parents. Pam (Teri Polo) and Greg (Ben Stiller) are ready to take their relationship to the next level and have arranged a meeting between the families to discuss their marriage. They fly out to meet Pam’s parents, Jack Byrnes (Robert DeNiro) and his wife Dina (Blythe Danner), and briskly run through all the gags of the first film: Jack’s obsessive desire to control everything, the cat that uses a toilet, etc… as though they were a shopping list.
The film adds a baby to the mix, thinking that nothing is funnier than a cute kid using sign language to spell out poop. Pam’s sister and husband are away, so Jack is raising their child, which is horrific enough in itself, but is made many times worse when the ex-CIA operative whips out a fake boob to show Greg how he intends to feed the child. He pressures Greg to feel the breast – which oddly enough is an exact duplicate of his daughters – just as Dina and Pam enter.
Yes, it’s that weird in real life too.
Rather than flying to Miami, Jack has decided to drive the family RV. Greg is understandably unnerved about the idea of spending a day in a big black pressure cooker, but the RV is needed later for a comedy bit about a horny dog and a cat that knows how to flush a toilet. The RV also allows the film to drag through a series of mostly flat jokes involving a bus full of exhibitionist cheerleaders and other road trip mishaps. 
Just when you’ve thought the movie would be boring it descends into pure badness. The Fockers are perhaps the best part of this awful little movie. Bernie and Roz Focker (Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand) are lifestyle hippies living like parrot-heads in tropical Miami. They work great as foils to the Byrnes and provide some truly fresh moments to this otherwise drab sequel. The problem is that the film loses control of these characters, allowing them to disintegrate into caricatures of themselves rather than establish dynamic tension.
There’s a good film here about Baby Boomers’ attitudes as they near retirement age. It’s interesting to see a representation of a counterculture couple in their fifties and Hoffman in particular is excellent as a stay-at-home dad. Jack can’t help but come off as petrified in comparison to his eternally young-at-heart hippie peers, but the film never really explores the inherent tension between these characters or examines how 30-something couples must come to grips with these conflicts over the meaning of parenthood.
The filmmakers take the easy route by demonizing straight-lace Jack and treating Bernie as a well-intentioned softie. The open sexuality of the Fockers’ house, where young Greg was pimped out to the babysitter to lose his virginity and Bernie and Roz routinely engage in loud and kinky sex, is represented as harmless, perhaps even helpful to Greg’s development. Red flags should go up when Roz brags that Greg is a thoughtful lover, but the film covers over its tracks with so many bad jokes that most viewers are beaten into submission before they realize they’ve been forced to pick sides.
The genius of Meet the Parents was that it refused to reconcile its conflicts. Jack did not reform himself and Greg could never conform to his father-in-law’s strict code of ethics. Although still largely a yuck-yuck comedy, the film remained complex and nuanced enough to make us understand why the characters were the way they were. Here everything is spelled out and resolved in the worst way possible, like a bad sitcom.
And speaking about bad sitcoms… In the tradition of Three’s Company reruns, the film relies heavily on the comedic power of misunderstandings, and when that doesn’t work introduces some of the unfunniest scenes ever caught on tape.
Unsatisfied with traditional means of surveillance such as bugging teddy bears, Jack eventually injects Greg with truth serum to get him to come clean about a potential illicit affair. Now in my world injecting someone with anything against their will is a invasion of privacy and a criminal act about as funny as watching a date rape on Gilligan’s Island, but Stiller draws the scene out in what is perhaps the greatest awful comedic performance since Joe Dirt.
Not content to force Stiller to eat pie, the film also features shockingly dumb scenes of Streisand riding DeNiro and Hoffman licking whip cream off of Streisand bosom while pretending to be a carpet cleaner. You think you’ve reached the bottom of the toilet bowl when Greg’s baby foreskin ends up in a fondue plate, but haven’t seen nothing yet, and it’s this ever-lowered expectation that seems to set the stage for yet another Meet the whatever movie, due out in 2008.
Meet the Fockers could have been an engaging comedy about inter-family compromise or a funny examination of Baby Boomer parenting techniques played out on Gen-X couples, but it’s instead a big old hairball of a film. Give me a big old black pen and I’ll carve a movie out of this mess, but until then just stay away – you really don’t need to meet the Fockers.

 

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