(by Dustin Putman
The series began amusingly enough with 2000's "Meet the Parents," a part-raucous, part-sweet-natured comedy about a well-meaning but occasionally bumbling young man trying to win the approval of his beloved girlfriend's CIA retiree father. 2004's "Meet the Fockers," which brought together the respective disparate parents of the engaged lovebirds and watched as cultures clashed and wackiness ensued, was less inspired, a more sporadically funny part-two that wore thin its one-note jokes. Where there is money to be made, more sequels are apt to predictably follow, but all involved would have been wise to run screaming from the dotted line of their contracts when "Little Fockers" was presented to them. Consider the worst possible continuation imaginable for this by-now scandalously wretched franchise and then go lower—not by a few steps, but all the way down into the fiery pits of cinematic Hell. This is where "Little Fockers" resides. The mind reels in utter bafflement over what director Paul Weitz, the director of such lovely character-rich films as 2002's "About a Boy" and 2004's "In Good Company," is doing helming such a heinously unredeemable piece of trash. He, along with a shameful cast of heavy-hitters and two seemingly comatose screenwriters, John Hamburg (2009's "I Love You, Man") and Larry Stuckey, can all now confidently say that they've hit what one can only pray is the nadir of their careers. Article continues below
Those waiting for a plot to kick in will still be waiting by the time the blessed end credits roll. Instead, what we have are a daft series of humiliations and enragingly idiotic misunderstandings that wouldn't pass muster on an episode of "Three's Company," all surrounding the rotten daily travails of a married couple whose twins are about to turn five. Indeed, a half-decade has passed since we last saw male nurse Gaylord "Greg" Focker (Ben Stiller) and wife Pam (Teri Polo). With a big birthday blowout about to go down for children Samantha (Daisy Tahan) and Henry (Colin Baiocchi), Pam's parents Jack (Robert De Niro) and Dina Byrnes (Blythe Danner) have traveled to Chicago for a visit. For those keeping count, Greg's parents, sex therapist Roz (Barbra Streisand) and New Age-y Bernie (Dustin Hoffman), the latter currently learning Flamenco dancing in Spain, are due to fly in later for the party. As Greg and Pam vie to get their kids into the highly exclusive Early Human School, Jack makes a proposal to his son-in-law to become the official successor of the family—"the Godfocker," as he calls it. All of this is put into jeopardy, however, when he gradually begins to suspect that Greg is secretly having an affair.
Let's start with the title, which can't even get the naming convention right (shouldn't it be called "Meet the Little Fockers?"), and then make mention of how it doesn't even make sense since the children have bit parts, at best. Next, let's talk about their casting. Daisy Tahan (2008's "Synecdoche, New York") and Colin Baiocchi (2009's "Couples Retreat") look to be about two years apart despite playing twins Samantha and Henry, and no throwaway line of dialogue referencing this awkward difference in height and development can adequately explain it away. Were there really no actual twins to hire? The story thread concerning Jack asking Greg to carry on as the new head of the family is nonsensical, also, since it was established in the first film that Jack and Dina have a son of their own. Nevertheless, not a single mention is made of this missing-in-action character. These observations, of course, would be but superficial criticisms if the film itself were any good. Oh, boy, it's not. "Little Fockers" exists down there with 2007's "Epic Movie" and 2008's "Disaster Movie," sounding the death knell of studio-produced comedy. Its instincts are purely juvenile, fit for no one above the age of about five, yet it's filled to the gills with sex jokes and gross-out humor. Who was the film made for, then? Possibly extraterrestrial creatures with sub-human intelligence who have never seen a movie before and might be interested in the allure of moving pictures.
If a contest were created to write the most worthless and unfunny script imaginable, "Little Fockers" would have a fighting chance at taking home the prize. Clever barbs, passing witticisms and potential situations ripe for uncomfortable laughter are bypassed in exchange for the endless repeating of double-entendres involving "Focker" and gags dealing with erections, sex drugs, and a colonoscopy turned into foreplay. A family dinner transforms into a gorefest when Greg slices open his finger while trying to carve the turkey, blood spraying across the room and all over his guests. In another scene, Henry takes a bite of lasagna and projectile vomits over Greg. A drug rep named Andi Garcia (Jessica Alba) becomes a voracious sexual predator who attacks Greg, throwing him into a dirt hole, jumping on top of him, and passing out. When all of this is met with silence from appalled viewers who don't know how to react other than to groan, director Paul Weitz bizarrely aims for comedy stemming from heart attacks, fist fights, and a "Jaws" parody set in a children's ball pen that comes out of nowhere and goes to exactly the same place. Nothing says guffaws like a good, old-fashioned coronary and the crumbling of a familial relationship leading to physical assault, right?
Watching the actors—many of them iconic veterans—squirm their way through "Little Fockers" is dank and depressing. Ben Stiller (2010's "Greenberg") doesn't look like he believes in this project (who could blame him?); reprising Greg Focker, he goes through the motions while trading his soul for a paycheck. As Jack Byrnes, Robert De Niro (2009's "Everybody's Fine") is forced to play a jackass who is mistrusting and jumps to conclusions so that dumbed-down conflicts can occur. De Niro has worked tirelessly over the past ten years to strip himself of credibility, and this is the final insult. Teri Polo (2001's "Domestic Disturbance") and poor Blythe Danner (2008's "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants Part 2") stand dutifully along the sidelines as long-suffering wives Pam and Dina. Barbra Streisand, making her first screen appearance since "Meet the Fockers" as Roz, shows up for a glorified cameo that isn't at all glorious. As her husband Bernie, Dustin Hoffman (2008's "Last Chance Harvey") only came onboard in post-production and all his scenes happened in reshoots; this is glaringly obvious since he has little interaction with the other characters. Hoffman should have stood his ground and stayed out of it had he known what was really good for him. New to the misbegotten series, Jessica Alba (2010's "Machete") is made to look like a fool when her Andi Garcia is insultingly revealed to be an absolute lunatic. Harvey Keitel (2007's "National Treasure: Book of Secrets") turns up as a construction worker who gets into an argument with De Niro that has them staring each other down, wondering silently what happened to their careers. And Laura Dern (2006's "Inland Empire"), earning the sole laugh in the movie but otherwise wasted beyond repair, deserves better as Prudence, the highfalutin headmistress of the Early Human School.
"Little Fockers" is a maddening, joyless experience, easily one of the most inept films of the year. It's cynical. It's mean-spirited. It's ugly. It's lazy. It's aimless. It's without a point or even minimal creative drive. The random plot threads lurking within—e.g., the attempt to get the kids into the Early Human School; the troubles with the builders at Greg and Pam's new home; the material with Andi and the drug she's selling, called Sustengo—don't feature payoffs so much as they just hit brick walls and aren't brought up again. Worst of all, the filmmakers and studio Universal Pictures are despicably presumptuous of what they believe audiences want to see in their modern Hollywood comedies. That something as artificial and soulless as "Little Fockers" is being released squarely around the holidays is stomach-churning; it's bad enough that anyone might watch it the other eleven months of the year, but the idea that people are going to see this worthless celluloid excrement with their families at Christmastime is downright tragic.