Meet the Fockers

Watching Meet the Fockers, the sequel to the smash comedy hit Meet the Parents, is like visiting the set of a big wild party in which the guests are spread over a big space. Drinking, eating and schmoozing, the characters are constantly moving from one side of the film's amusement park to the other. Indeed, Jay Roach's hollow movie is less directed than orchestrated; his function is more of a traffic controller.

However, there's sheer joy in seeing Streisand in a comeback performance, and a comedy at that. Streisand has been absent from the screen for eight years, since the disastrous The Mirror Has Two Faces, and much longer (about two decades) from the comedy genre. Age has been kind to Streisand. Finally relinquishing the romantic leading roles, Streisand, 62, looks great; she's introduced in the film through a shot of her rear!

Moreover, she seems more comfy than ever before doing her shtick as a Jewish yenta. Streisand was too young, only 27, when she appeared in Hello, Dolly! (1969). Dolly's part is written for an older, more mature actress, as was evident in the various stage productions, including Pearl Bailey and Carol Channing's definitive interpretation. In Fockers, Streisand is playing a woman who's more or less her age, at least old enough to have a son like Ben Stiller.

Another side benefit is watching the second teaming of Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman, two icons of their generation. In their first collaboration, Wag the Dog, Hoffman stole every scene he was in from De Niro. And the same thing happens in Fockers, a result not of his great acting but of the flamboyant nature of his role; De Niro is again stuck with the straight role.

Tallying over $300 million worldwide, the first film was a runaway hit. We knew there would be a sequel based on the last scene of Meet the Parents, in which Jack Byrnes (De Niro) asks his wife Dina (Blythe Danner): What kind of people would name their child Gaylord Focker referring to Stiller's male nurse nicknamed Greg.

Though not as good or funny, Fockers will make even more money than Meet the Parents, for two reasons. The comedy casts Streisand and Hoffman in major roles, and there's no competition in the marketplace. Spanglish will not survive much beyond the Christmas holiday, and Christmas with the Kranks will be gone by New Year's. Hence, Fockers practically has the whole field for itself.

As messy as Fockers is, you'll have at least a dozen good laughs, though, ultimately, your response to the movie will be determined by your threshold of tolerance to many repetitive and unfunny scenes. Someone should come up with a formula of how to measure comedies: How many one-liners and wild scenes you need in a 90-minute picture to qualify as a good comedy.

Meet the Fockers is, of course, longer. Too long, in fact. By the time the movie reaches its last reel, you'll be exhausted, not so much from laughing but from watching a desperate, frantic comedy that celebrates excess for excess sake. Here, the excess takes the form of sex jokes about the middle-aged (and older) crowd and some foul lingo used by the elders in the film.

Most of American comedy writers and directors, Woody Allen, Paul Mazursky, Neil Simon, Mel Brooks, and James L. Brooks, have been Jewish and have used distinctly Jewish humor in their films. However, I can't think of another comedy in recent years, in which the characters are so proudly, aggressively, and stereotypically Jewish as the Fockers.

And the story Set four years after the first film, Meet the Fockers finds a slightly different Greg. Having managed to earn his way inside the Circle of Trust, things are going well for the male nurse. Greg and his fiancee Pam (Teri Polo) are enthusiastically planning their wedding, but there's still a tiny thing left to smooth the way to the altar: The in-laws need to spend a weekend together.

Greg and Pam climb aboard Jack's new state-of-the-art RV, with its Kevlar-reinforced hull and the two-inch Plexiglas windows, for a trip to Focker Isle, the Cocoanut Grove domicile of Bernie and Roz Focker (Hoffman and Streisand). The idea is to spend quality time together, get to know each other. In contrast, Jack comes with a different agenda. The impending family get-together allows Jack to evaluate the legacy potential of the Focker family line, as he says, Its like studying a frozen caveman. If I can see where you came from, I'll have a better idea of where you're going.

In the course of two days, anything that can possibly go wrong does go wrong. The facades that Greg has been “selling” to Jack falls apart, when the stern father realizes that, instead of spending a weekend with a lawyer and a doctor, he's stuck with a liberal stay-at-home dad and a senior citizens' sex therapist. When first seen, Roz demonstrates some exercises to her senior-citizen crowd. There are also secrets and lies, or half-secrets and half-lies, some involving the saucy Cuban caterer and a mysterious adolescent who looks like Greg. Trying to “manage” things, Greg over-compensates, which of course leads to one disaster after another.

Jack Byrnes, the rigid clan patriarch, behaves according to the ethics of a covert government agent, a man with a special knack for ferreting out the truth. In contrast, his wife is more liberal and open-minded and soon she's getting lessons from Roz about how to defrost and allure her husband in bed.

The screenplay is credited to Jim Herzfeld (who wrote “Meet the Parents”) and John Hamburg (who penned “Along Came Polly”). In the press notes, the writers claim “the truth of comedy is based on a glimmer of recognition, on the acknowledgement of familiar situations with universal appeal.” That may be true. However, what the filmmakers forget is that in comedy the how is more important than the what.

Best-known for the Austin Powers movies, Roach must have been intimidated by the company, for he lets his actors do their own thing with little interference. Roach doesn't show much skill in staging sight gigs that have a payoff. Lacking any discernible style, the movie feels as if it directed by a committee.

Desperate for laughs, the movie gets lamer and more repetitive as it gets along. Roach is not above toilet humor, and his idea of fun is to show everything from the point of view of a toddler, an idea that I thought had been exhausted a decade ago in Look Who's Talking movie series.

Hoffman, in a goofy, relaxed mode, seems to have fun with his role. Playing the family's Jewish mother, puts him in direct contrast to Jack's type of male, a stiff shirt unwilling and unable to relinquish control of his family. The most thankless role is played by Pam, as the Waspish daughter and Greg's fiance.

Their comic attitudes are unsubtle and only mildly appealing, because they are hollow and entirely derived from pop culture clichs, Roach's vulgarity shows in his recklessly coarse pastiche of bad taste and Jewish showbiz angle. A concession to the masses, Meet the Fockers is devoid of wit or feeling for the comedy genre. The movie is doomed by its facetious, mindless desperation to grab laughs anywhere, anyhow, anytime.

While Meet the Parents struck a chord with audiences and some critics, the sequel, reaching for the lowest common denominator, will please indiscriminating audiences but will be panned by critics. Rest assured that Fockers will make a lot of money and there will be another sequel. But I'm more curious of the picture's effects on Streisand's career Will we have to wait another eight years for her to make another picture By which time, La Streisand will be 70!

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