When a 31-year-old Robert De Niro picked up his first Oscar for The Godfather Part II in 1975, the movie world lay before him like a Las Vegas crab leg buffet ready to be plundered by a big fat guy.
When he accepted his second Oscar, this time for Raging Bull in 1981, the not-yet-40 method actor must’ve thought things were going quite nicely, on his way to one of the most prestigious careers Hollywood would ever see.
Cut to 2010, 18 years removed from his last Oscar nomination, and De Niro is getting stabbed in the dick by a syringe-wielding Ben Stiller in the all around humiliating experience that is Little Fockers.
When the original Meet the Parents hit screens 10 years ago—that’s right … 10 YEARS AGO!—I sort of adored it. After the abysmal first sequel Meet the Fockers, where De Niro’s Jack Byrnes went too far and became strikingly unfunny, I just felt sorry for De Niro.
This movie is nothing but a setup for lame pratfalls, body humor and a pathetic physical showdown between Stiller’s neurotic son-in-law Greg Focker and De Niro’s psychotic patriarch.
De Niro’s Jack has a mild heart attack near the film’s beginning, defibrillating himself with his lie detector machine. A movie trying to wring laughter out of a heart attack in its opening minutes is a bad sign. The last time a heart attack was funny on screen was when Red Foxx feigned one on TV’s Sanford and Son back in the ’70s.
Jack and wife, Dina (Blythe Danner), visit Greg and his wife, their daughter Pam (Teri Polo), with Jack babbling some nonsense about Greg taking over direction of the family in the event of his death. (He dubs him “The GodFocker … BAHAHAHA!) Of course, Owen Wilson’s new-age tycoon wacko Kevin shows up pining for Pam, and Jack starts believing his daughter should do a life course correction, dump Greg, and take up with her rich ex.
In the original, Jack was nutty, but he kept it within the realm of reason, except for the whole lie-detector thing. Two films later, Jack is a deranged monster looking to destroy his daughter’s marriage and ruin Greg’s life. The humor in Jack’s behavior is officially extinct.
Subplots include Dustin Hoffman’s Bernie Focker traveling the world to learn flamenco dancing. Hoffman, who originally passed on the film because he didn’t like the script, was written into the movie after the thing was shot and tested poorly with anybody possessing a pulse. Predictably, his scenes feel tacked on. As for his wife in the film, Roz (Barbra Streisand) has become a TV star giving out sex advice, the equivalent of a finger to the back of the throat to induce vomiting for most mammals.
Jessica Alba, who had a good year with her work in The Killer Inside Me, tries to put her comedy chops in play as a drug rep for an erectile dysfunction medication called Sustengo. She’s a bit much in the role, that of a drunken ditz who winds up in her underwear lying on top of Greg in a ditch near film’s end.
As for that final physical showdown between Greg and Jack at a big outdoor birthday party surrounded by kids, both of these crazy assholes would be hauled off to state prison for their behavior if this were the real world. Yes, I know, it’s a make-believe movie, but I guess I just find it offensive when director Paul Weitz wants me to laugh at the sight of two grown men seriously beating the shit out of each other while pre-school kids run in terror. The two are throwing real haymakers into each other’s faces.
Little Fockers, a bunch of dick jokes and violent episodes mashed together and marketed as a movie, will probably be the franchise’s swan song. The Fockers can go join Carrie and the Sex and the City girls over at a ritzy bar, drink Manhattans, and discuss how their horrendous 2010 sequels managed to derail their money trains.