- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Things go too well for luckless Greg Focker in the first few frames of “Meet the Fockers,” arriving in area theaters today. Traffic lights cooperate. He and fiancee Pam Byrnes breeze through airport security on their way to meet the Byrneses once again. That flight attendant with the funny things in her hair is a big help when carry-on luggage doesn’t fit.

You just know things will go south. And they do — literally and metaphorically.

The general formula of “Fockers,” as with too many sequels, is to take the kernel of every joke in 2000’s very funny “Meet the Parents” and put them under extreme heat. Some turn out expansive and fluffy. Others sink to the bottom, crumbly and black. A few new kernels don’t pop at all.

“Fockers,” directed by Jay Roach (who helmed the first, as well as the “Austin Powers” movies) is a mixed bag, but it taps into enough of the original’s comedy of mayhem to generate consistent laughs.

Greg (Ben Stiller) and Pam (Teri Polo) have yet to marry for reasons that become obvious as soon as the action moves to South Florida, where Mr. and Mrs. Focker reside: Greg doesn’t want the lily-white Byrneses, (Robert De Niro reprises his role as Jack, and Blythe Danner is back as his wife, Dina), to meet the Fockers, a critical summit that Jack, an ex-CIA profiler, demands before giving away his daughter.

Returning screenwriters John Hamburg and Jim Herzfeld crafted “Fockers” as a kind of red-blue family showdown. The casting of Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand as Bernie and Roz Focker adds a caricature of Jewishness to match the already overpowering caricature of WASPiness that Mr. De Niro and Miss Danner must shoulder again. Also, the elder Fockers are madcap hippies — the predictable counterpoint to reactionary Jack (we’ll pretend for the movie’s sake that the CIA leans Republican).

Greg tries feverishly — when is Mr. Stiller not feverish? — to convince Jack he comes from good stock, to pass off his parents as basically normal people. They may be on the touchy-feely side, but, hey, they’re a doctor and lawyer. Technically true. However, Bernie quit practicing to stay at home with baby Greg, and Roz is a sex therapist.

The profiler in Jack, who has acquired lots of fancy new surveillance equipment, has it all figured out: Greg, a male nurse, is the Fockers’ son, and the Fockers were soft parents who raised an underachiever — unlike baby Jack, his grandson, whose development he’s engineering with the same “Baby Mozart” mentality he applies to his beloved cat.

But Mr. Hoffman’s Bernie proves a tougher opponent than Jack expects, and Miss Streisand’s Roz wins over Dina by helping her realize her marriage to Jack is abnormally sexless.

“Fockers” grows increasingly haphazard as it drags on. The infant moves in and out of the drama with “Friends”-like convenience. Miss Polo is pushed so far to the margins that she’s barely a character anymore. Miss Streisand, too, plays a surprisingly marginal role. An ongoing subplot involving Greg’s possible fathering of an illegitimate child with the Fockers’ maid is killed with a lazy resolution.

The movie comes down to the men. And the men, Focker and Byrnes alike, make a mess, as men always do.

***

TITLE: “Meet the Fockers”

RATING: PG-13 (Crude humor; profanity; brief drug reference)

CREDITS: Directed by Jay Roach. Produced by Robert De Niro, Mr. Roach and Jane Rosenthal. Story by Marc Hyman and Jim Herzfeld. Screenplay by John Hamburg and Mr. Herzfeld. Cinematography by John Schwartzman. Original music by Randy Newman.

RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes.

WEB SITE: www.meetthefockers.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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