'Little Fockers' (PG-13)

Sitting through Little Fockers is a soul-sucking, dispiriting experience. A sequel to 2004’s Meet the Fockers was probably inevitable, since it became the highest-grossing comedy of all time, even though it wasn’t nearly as funny as the first chapter in the trilogy, Meet the Parents, which still holds up.

So OK, fine, Little Fockers: Hollywood is a business, after all, and only a sucker wouldn’t try to squeeze more dough out of a franchise that is beloved the world over. But couldn’t they have tried? This lazy, shapeless, humor-free picture, which was directed by Paul Weitz, who is capable of good, character-driven comedies (About a Boy, In Good Company), and written by John Hamburg (I Love You, Man) and Larry Stuckey, is agonizing to sit through.

Watching talented actors coast through familiar routines for the sake of a paycheck makes you feel had: You want to ask them for your money back. Little Fockers is one of the crassest cash-grabs I have ever seen – the laziness makes you  embarrassed for the people onscreen. The movie is built upon the flimsiest premise imaginable, yet another scenario in which a character inexplicably lies about something instead of telling the simple truth, which would have saved everyone a lot of grief (and spared us from having to endure the film).

Instead, Greg (Ben Stiller) decides to lie to his family about a presentation he’s making at a pharmaceutical convention, because he doesn’t want his father-in-law Jack (Robert De Niro) to know he’s hurting for money. This leads to suspicions of adultery with a vivacious saleswoman (Jessica Alba, giving the best performance in the film, which should tell you something), much snooping and skullduggery, a tired Viagra joke and such bottom-of-the-barrel gags as Greg’s adorable 5-year-old son projectile vomiting in his dad’s face.

Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand reprise their roles as Greg’s parents in what can be described as extended cameos. Hoffman is forced to act like such a complete buffoon, having run off to Spain to take flamenco lessons, that you grow to loathe his carefree, go-with-the-flow demeanor. He’s not funny; he’s just an idiot. Harvey Keitel shows up as a construction worker who gets to go toe-to-toe with De Niro in one scene, which only reminds you what a great film Mean Streets was and wonder why you didn’t stay home and watch that again instead.

The title of Little Fockers implies the couple’s twins are going to play a major role in the film, but the kids serve barely any function in the film. Owen Wilson reprises his bit as the do-no-wrong golden boy, but what was amusing in the first film has now been exaggerated to the level of a bad SNL skit. By the end of Little Fockers, Greg and Jack finally engage in an extended fistfight, further proof of how wrong-headed the entire enterprise is. You don’t want to see these two characters beat each other up in public: the constant and suppressed tension between them is what made Meet the Parents funny. I have no idea how Little Fockers will fare at the box office, but I am hoping it doesn’t gross enough to warrant a fourth film. Life is short, you know? Please, no more focking Fockers.

Cast: Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Blythe Danner, Jessica Alba, Teri Polo, Colin Bajocchi, Daisy Tahan, Harvey Keitel, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand.

Director: Paul Weitz.

Screenwriters: John Hamburg, Larry Stuckey.

Producers: Jay Roach, Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal.

A Universal Pictures release. Running time: 98 minutes. Vulgar language, crude humor, sexual situations, offensively lazy acting. Opens Dec. 22 in area theaters.


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