Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Who knew stars could be so dim?: "Meet the Fockers"

I remember it quite clearly: "Meet the Fockers" and "Ocean's Twelve" were in theaters at the same time, and the missus and I planned to see both of them. After all, we enjoyed their respective precursors so much, with big stars hamming it up and generally enjoying themselves while putting out passable comedies/caper films. Why not see the sequels? How bad could they be?

As it turned out, we missed both at the movieplex, confirming that I indeed am The Smartest Man Alive. You may recall me panning "Ocean's Twelve" a while back, and while "Fockers" isn't quite as bad, it's still a substantial letdown. At least it cost only part of my monthly Netflix fee, not two primetime movie tickets.

As should be clear, "Meet the Fockers" follows "Meet the Parents," with our hero Gaylord "Greg" Focker (Ben Stiller) taking his fiancee (Teri "Nobody Will Remember Me for Anything Else" Polo) and her parents (Robert De Niro and Blythe Danner) to Florida to meet his folks, played by Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand. Talk about star power, huh? That should have been our first warning sign.

After enjoying the banter/battle between Stiller and De Niro in "Parents" -- complete with hugely uncomfortable but thoroughly entertaining scenes -- I was immediately thrown in "Fockers" by the relative civility between the two at the start. Sure, they had made up at the end of Movie One. But the absence of tension at the outset made it hard to accept tension later. Not sure if that makes sense, and really, that's not the point.

The big problem is that everyone from the first movie (a) looks worse than before, (b) seems to be mailing it in or (c) both. Really, Polo creeped me out, mostly because of those bangs. Heck, Danner looked a lot hotter, and she's 60-plus. (No offense to the AARP crowd.) Stiller clearly had make-up caked all over his face, making him look a tad too shiny. I also never bought him being as stressed out and squirmy as in "Parents."

Then there's De Niro, who pretty much tears your heart out by playing along with this crap. The first movie? Sure, especially since we hadn't seen him play a CIA dad before. But twice? Bobby ... c'mon. It's not like you can't get other work. (Of course, he got $13.5 mil for "Parents," so I can only imagine what "Fockers" yielded. But was it enough for your soul, buddy?)

Fortunately, Hoffman and Streisand add a little freshness, and both seem to have fun with their pseudo-hippy roles as Stiller's parents. Rather odd that Babs would choose this role given her tendency to not act much -- six movies in the last 25 years. And it's not like she's doing much heavy lifting here. Still, she's amusing.

As for Hoffman, he's probably the best thing about "Fockers," with his doting dad a bit over the top but mostly believeable. The role could have been a total cartoon, but Hoffman balanced humor and more heartfelt stuff relatively well. Then again, that whole "Ten minutes to Wapner" and "Dad lets me drive slow on the driveway" business got pretty annoying.


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