Little Fockers, the third, and hopefully final, film in the trilogy that also includes Meet The Parents and Meet The Fockers, ends with a scene that serves as a surprisingly apt metaphor for the series as a whole. Early in the film, Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) gives a speech in which he recounts some of the mistreatment he suffered at the hands of his father-in-law Jack (Robert De Niro) in the first film. It’s nothing special, but some of the stories are reasonably amusing, just like Meet The Parents. At the end of the film, we see Jack watching the speech on youtube, and because it is so redundant, the speech is not funny the second time around, just like Meet The Fockers. Jack then clicks on an autotuned remix of the speech, which further replicates the same thing, but now it is soulless and mechanical on top of being repetitive, and that seems to describe this film in a nutshell. It’s like the first two, but now anyone with some cheap equipment and a few acting legends willing to embarrass themselves could have done the same thing. I have seen worse comedies this year (Macgruber, anyone?) but none of them have been as astoundingly lazy as Little Fockers. There is not a single joke or situation that isn’t a variation of something that probably wasn’t too funny when it happened in the first movie, and was far less funny when it happened again in the second.
The movie begins five years after the last one ended. Greg has now been promoted to head of nursing at his hospital (so at least there’s a letup on the unending male nurse jokes), and he and Pam (Teri Polo) now have five-year old twins. Meanwhile, Jack has a minor heart attack, which leads him to think about who will lead the family after he dies, and upon seeing that Greg is the only option, he decides to use an upcoming visit for the twins’ birthday to size him up, thus reverting to his old ways of creeping around and spying on Greg. At the same time, Kevin (Owen Wilson), Pam’s rich ex-boyfriend returns to town newly single, and although him and Greg are now friendly, he has renewed feelings for Pam. Jack isn’t Greg’s only problem, though. The contractor working on his new house (Harvey Keitel) seems to be screwing him over, the headmistress at the exclusive private kindergarten that Pam wants for the kids (Laura Dern) seems unimpressed with his son and the pharmaceutical rep who gets Greg to pitch her erectile dysfunction pills (Jessica Alba) seems to want an affair. Honestly, none of these stories are particularly important though, and the first two are dropped completely, never providing real resolution and completely wasting Keitel and Dern. The real conflict is between Jack, who doesn’t believe that Greg is fit for his daughter, and Greg, who is tired of his delusional father-in-law trying to ruin his life for no given reason. Oddly enough, I’d say the tile is actually somewhat of a misnomer. The movie has little to do with the little Fockers. They exist to move the plot a bit, but the kids are not given actual personalities and are really only pawns in the struggle between Jack and Greg.
The biggest problem may be that there is no longer anything remotely believable about these characters. It is simply impossible for me to imagine why none of these people have ever realized that Jack is simply insane, and should not be around his family. In the first movie, he was amusingly intimidating and, because of De Niro, still somewhat likable. By now, he’s just infuriating. De Niro recently announced that he was set so star in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, set to start filming next year, so it’s hardly time to call a moratorium on his career, but this is the worst thing I’ve seen from the fifteen years of trash he’s done since Heat, and I’ve seen Godsend. De Niro comes out looking much worse than the other great actors in this film—Dern, Keitel and Dustin Hoffman, who returns for a brief cameo as Greg’s father—because he is forced to stand on screen reciting whatever soulless banality the script requires of him for far longer periods of time. Stiller has the same slightly unpleasant air about him that he does in most of his bad movies (or really, everything except The Royal Tenenbaums and Zoolander), but, at the very least, it seems like he’s trying harder than De Niro. The few laughs in the film almost all come from Owen Wilson’s Kevin. The jokes about his ostentatiously wealthy and spiritually conflicted investment banker aren’t too different from the previous entries, but Wilson’s charisma makes up for the derivativeness. Dustin Hoffman and Barbara Streisand reappear at the very beginning and end of the movie, but neither is given more than a few minutes on screen. Lucky for them, I think even the writers realized that their characters had worn out their welcome by the end of the second movie. The women in this film are just as underused and uninteresting as they have been in the past. Pam and her mother (Blythe Danner) continue to act as voices of reason with no other character traits and Alba’s character, named Andi Garcia for no particular reason beyond one failed joke, serves a purpose, insomuch as she makes Jack even more worried about Greg, but she too is completely devoid of actual human characteristics.
Jay Roach, director of the first two, stepped back and served as producer, and they brought on Paul Weitz, director of the truly atrocious American Dreamz and last year’s Cirque Du Freak. Why they would attach their blockbuster franchise to someone whose last films were both (deservedly) poorly received flops is beyond me, and the filmmaking on display here is as bad as you would expect. Weitz is overly reliant on close-ups, which, for some reason, are almost never fully in focus and are edited in a way which ruins whatever comedic timing there may have been on set. It’s hard to imagine much of that timing could have existed when working with a script that insists on using the same “Focker” jokes we’ve heard dozens of times in each movie as the main source of humor. The rest of the humor is equally flat and repetitive, almost like the audience is being forced to watch an even more painfully long episode of Two And A Half Men. I saw this movie in a near-full advance screening, and there were multiple stretches of ten or fifteen minutes where I couldn’t hear anything beyond an occasional chuckle from the crowd around me, and that’s because Little Fockers is, above all else, a mind-numbingly dull film that you should avoid at all costs.
Little Fockers is rated PG-13 for mature sexual humor throughout, language and some drug content.
It opens everywhere December 22nd
Directed by Paul Weitz; written by John Hamburg and Larry Stuckey; director of photography, Remi Adefarasin; edited by Greg Hayden, Leslie Jones and Myron Kerstein; original music by Stephen Trask; art director, Sue Chan; distributed by Universal Studios. Running time: 1 hour 38 minutes.
With: Ben Stiller (Greg Focker), Robert De Niro (Jack Byrnes), Owen Wilson (Kevin Rawley), Blythe Danner (Dina Byrnes), Teri Polo (Pam Focker), Jessica Alba (Andi Garcia), Laura Dern (Prudence), Harvey Keitel (Randy), Barbara Streisand (Roz Focker) and Dustin Hoffman (Bernie Focker).