THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Meet the Parents was an enormous hit when it debuted in October of 2000, and its reputation has only increased on home video. After all, haven’t most of us tried (and failed) to impress a significant other’s parents at some point? When it was announced that a sequel, called Meet the Fockers was going to be made, it seemed like a great idea, especially with the news that Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand had signed on to play Bernard and Roz Focker, the parents of hapless Greg (Ben Stiller). The end result is somewhat of a mixed bag, though. There are things in the movie that are insanely funny, yet it never really achieves the comic liftoff that made the original such a phenomenon.

The picture opens with Greg and fiancée Pam (Teri Polo) flying to Chicago to pick up her parents, Jack (Robert DeNiro) and Dina (Blythe Danner). Jack has a new pastime: obsessively caring for his grandson Little Jack – a child by Pam’s sister. This includes teaching the boy a new kind of toddler sign language (a set-up that provides most of the script’s best jokes). Instead of flying to Florida, where Greg is scheduled to introduce his future in-laws to his parents, Jack insists on driving there in his enormous camper.

Once they arrive, Greg introduces Jack and Dina to his own folks. The uptight Jack doesn’t know what to make of the free-thinking, flower-power Fockers. Bernard is a retired lawyer who may or may not have ever actually tried a case, while Roz is a sex therapist for senior citizens. The families do not merge well. Jack is appalled by the Fockers, whereas Bernard and Roz can’t understand why Jack is such a stick-in-the-mud. Things become even more tense when Greg and Pam find out that she’s pregnant – a fact they try to keep hidden from both sets of parents.

I had two basic problems with Meet the Fockers. The first is that not for a second did I believe Bernard and Roz would be the parents of Greg. They’re just too loony and weird. It would be nearly impossible to grow up with these people and turn out even remotely normal. Worse, the film aggressively plays up their oddness so that they seem much more like caricatures than real people. Everything they do is so unusual, so eccentric, that I never bought them as anything other than the figments of a screenwriter’s imagination. For example, Roz is not just a sex therapist; she’s a virtual exhibitionist who takes every opportunity to speak explicitly about positions, body parts, and techniques. Her office is one big phallic shrine. She teaches sexual experimentation to senior citizens. Bernard, meanwhile, isn’t just an aging hippie, but rather a gratingly flamboyant one who shares his kooky ideologies at every turn. Hoffman and Streisand earn some laughs, but their characters seem like they just stepped out of an episode of “Mad TV.” I believed Jack and Dina, but not Bernard and Roz.

The other problem is that the movie starts to go in some unfortunate directions. Meet the Parents was a comedy of manners; it was successful because a lot of people could relate to it. Things were exaggerated only slightly for comic effect. In contrast, Meet the Fockers stretches the comedy until it feels like it could break. By the end, Jack has injected Greg in the neck with sodium pentothal in an effort to coerce him into admitting a long-lost secret. That’s saying nothing of the high-tech command center Jack has hidden beneath the floor of his camper, or the ridiculous scene in which a hick cop starts shooting everyone with a tazer gun. The potential was there to capitalize on the comedic attitude of the original, but the situations and characters are so grossly distorted that Meet the Fockers never wins us completely over.

As I said, there are laughs in the film, some of them big. A scene in which Stiller attempts to baby sit the infant and accidentally teaches him a bad word is especially funny. And it’s certainly a joy to watch Stiller, DeNiro, Hoffman, and Streisand mix it up on-screen. There’s just no soul here – no sense that the film understands people or circumstances that those of us in the audience certainly understand. I guess you could say that individual moments are funny but they don’t add up to a whole. Those of us who related to Meet the Parents aren’t likely to identify with much here. When the end credits started to roll, I heard several others in the theater saying the same thing: “It wasn’t as good as the original.” My sentiments exactly.

( 1/2 out of four)

Meet the Fockers is rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, language and a brief drug reference. The running time is 1 hour and 55 minutes.

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