At the dawn of their careers, Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel shared the screen during the wrenching climax to one of the great films in the American canon. Back then, they made history. Now, reunited in a comedy franchise as lame as it is lucrative, they're collecting a paycheque. Good for them, sad for us. In time, the distance from Taxi Driver to Little Fockers is easy to measure - 34 years. But in every other way, it just seems incalculable.
And since we're on the subject of "once upon a time," let's flash back a mere decade to Meet the Parents, the franchise's first chapter. There, a very funny movie kept trying to get out, yet what began as a potentially sharp romcom eventually morphed into dull farce. Yep, it was a pretty good show, until somebody made a business decision. In the sequels since, in Meet the Fockers and now this thing, it's simply been business as usual.
Translation: The stars are back, De Niro and Blythe Danner heading the WASP half of the clan, Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand suiting up for the Focker side, with Ben Stiller stuck in the middle again and looking to broker a separate peace. Strange, though, how the biggest names are the worst offenders here, all mugging to the camera and chewing any scenery in sight. Ironically, it's Stiller who offers the titans a lesson in comic acting - at least, amid the frenzy, he keeps his fraying character in dignified check and tries to underplay the farce.
Tries, but consider what the guy's up against. The de rigueur puke scene arrives early, when one of the diminutive additions to the cast (so cleverly hinted at in the title) treats us to the second coming of his spaghetti dinner. Of course, dinner is always a trial in these family affairs, a tradition that continues with this classic lesson in the higher math of hijinks: Carving knife + severed artery = tons of bloody fun.
Soon after comes the now familiar litany of erectile dysfunction laughs, familiar enough that I need hardly remind you of that eye-popping moment when the camera points trouser-wards and the running joke swells into a sight gag. Sadly, this flick isn't in 3D. Still, it's comforting to see how fast-acting these drugs are: Already, in the factory of movie comedy clichés, Viagra and its ilk can take pride of place right beside the banana peel.
Meanwhile, more nuttiness: Streisand is peddling sex advice to seniors; Hoffman appears to be suffering from acute bodily spasms (although the plot assures us he's just learning the flamenco); Owen Wilson is back laying bare his way-too-sensitive soul; and newcomer Jessica Alba, stripped to her skivvies, is just laying bare.
Not to be outdone, a squinting De Niro, now that the big trouble in his trousers has abated, gets to play Oscar Wilde when, urging the role of family patriarch onto his son-in-law, he asks with piercing wit: "Are you prepared to be … the godfocker?" Oh, fellow pun-meisters, the possibilities are endless, but I'll leave you to imagine them.
As for Keitel, he pops up in a brief cameo as a housing contractor, with a dump-truck full of sand, the one that De Niro is standing right behind. The pair engage in a heated argument, as they once did so memorably those many years ago, and then the truck dumps that load exactly where you know it must. An esteemed actor gets buried but, what-the-fock, the franchise laughs on.
- Directed by Paul Weitz
- Written by John Hamburg and Larry Stuckey
- Starring Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro
- Classification: PG