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  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

eFilmcritic Archive: "Meet The Fockers" (2004)

I really wish more people could see the 1990 version of “Meet The Parents,” on which the 2000 movie is based. It has no star power, no crystal clean sets and no C.I.A. sub plot. It’s as simple as a movie can get. Guy meets his soon-to-be in-laws and everything that could possibly go wrong goes wrong. It’s funnier, darker and far more realistic. Now, we have a sequel to a re-make that comes after thousands of imitators and wannabes have already come and gone and ends up feeling like just another episode of Wacky Mishaps and Shenanigans. I consider myself very lucky knowing that a better movie exists out there in Bootleg Obscuraland.

Okay, so you didn’t see the original original. Fine. I’ll stop. But it helps to make my point that these two newer movies, although funny and put together by talented people, lack something that would make them classics: Discomfort. It’s funny, but I always feel safe watching a “Meet the Parents” movie. I never feel any suspense or sense of panic when situations get so far past the point of absurd and poor, innocent Ben Stiller must try and explain himself. I know when I look at the screen that that’s Ben Stiller doing his thing and that’s Robert DeNiro doing his thing and it’s sometimes funny.

The sequel “Meet the Fockers” tries to one-up the original by bringing in the other side of the family. Greg Focker (Stiller) and his finace Pam Byrnes (Teri Polo), along with her parents Jack (DeNiro) and Dina (Blythe Danner) take a trip in a seemingly normal mobile home to the Focker family house. I’m sure you remember in the original that Jack is a conservative, stern, uptight former C.I.A. agent who doesn’t understand the pot references in Puff the Magic Dragon.

The Focker parents operate a little differently. They’re a liberal minded, openly sexual, fun-loving couple who could also be mistaken for obnoxious. Bernie Focker (Dustin Hoffman) is a former attorney and his wife, Roz (Barbara Streisand), is a sex therapist for elderly couples. You can see where this is going, right? It’s almost too obvious to keep writing about it.

The oddball part of this comedic equation is a 2-year old toddler, Little Jack (played by Spencer and Bradley Pickren), who has joined the Byrnes family on this trip so that Grandpa Jack can spend more time with him and make him smarter. Little Jack is Pam’s brother’s child, but absorbs information like a sponge and has even mastered his own version of sign language. Don’t be surprised if this kid ends up responsible for the year’s biggest catchphrase (or word).

And then all hell breaks loose. Wackiness ensues. People’s feelings get hurt, the Circle of Trust is broken and everyone learns how NOT to be a jackass. Of course, since it’s also a Ben Stiller comedy, small animals get harmed and everyone looks at him like it’s his fault. Situations start out innocently enough, Stiller’s character reluctantly, but willingly, gets involved, makes a mistake that causes a domino effect of more mistakes until Stiller has a moment alone with his woman and they have a tender moment and everything is fine.

I’m not here to beat up on these movies. They’re funny, this one maybe less so (I haven’t seen the original since it first came out). The cast seems to be having a good time, particularly Hoffman, who gets most of the laughs, most of them off-screen. Barbara Streisand actually didn’t get on my nerves, which makes the movie worthy of an extra half-star right there. Stiller does his Stiller thing, DeNiro does his DeNiro thing. It gets tiresome, labored and predictable, but it goes down pretty easy, too.

I just wish I could feel sorry for these people. I wish I could relate to them and cover my eyes every time I see something about to go wrong. I remember last summer riding in a car with my girlfriend’s dad, who is also far more conservative than myself and a good man. He was showing off his XM radio in his fancy new car. He offered to let me play DJ and pick some stations that would be enjoyable for both of us. I go for the comedy station. Richard Lewis is on. Lewis starts out innocently enough talking about airports, but then segues into a bit about masturbation. It was a tense moment, probably for both of us. I wondered, “Do I switch it off? Do I change it? Do I let Lewis finish the bit?” Lewis never finished the bit. It was the longest two minutes of my life.

That’s how a “Meet the Parents” movie should feel more often. I know people had a good laugh at the original and I’m sure they will here too, but I wonder if anyone can actually identify with what goes on in them? Most people aren’t this stupid or idiotic in real life, but the movie would like to think they are. It’s not insulting or mean-spirited, but it’s not grounded in any kind of reality that would make us wince. The new “Meet the Parents” makes us walk out of the theater saying, “That was funny when that dog got flushed down and turned all blue.” The original 1990 movie makes us walk out saying, “I remember when I accidentally flushed my girlfriend’s parent’s dog down the toilet. It was NOT pretty.”

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