A laugh track would have been useful for much of Little Fockers, the latest in the Meet the Parents Saga. At the helm for this outing is Paul Weitz who has made several sharper comedies including About a Boy, In Good Company and American Dreamz. Here there is no parody, no targets; the character driven humor that comes out of revaluations has been sucked dry. When a network sitcom isn’t working the last ditch effort to save it is to bring in kids (check) and bring in guest stars (added to the cast are underused stars Jessica Alba, Owen Wilson, Harvey Keitel, and Laura Dern). Unnecessary is a kind word to describe a sitcom with lots of boring “situation” and little comedy.
Simple is the setup: former CIA agent Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro) perhaps influenced by the Bush administration grows weary of his “legacy” and the “Byrnes name” – after his other son-in-law, Dr. Bob is caught cheating, he turns to our hero Gaylord Focker (Ben Stiller) to take the lead as the head of the Byrnes clan. Focker, a recent parent of twins with wife Pam (Teri Polo) is working on a new house in the ‘burbs (Keitel is underused as a shady contractor – and if there’s anybody who could play this role why not Mr. Wolf from Pulp Fiction).
Enter sexy drug rep Andi Garcia (Alba) and her erectile dysfunction medication (a theme this holiday season with Love and Other Drugs, an equally disappointing film probably heading to a discount theater near you right about now). This leads to the funniest moments in the film, which you’ve seen in the trailer – see I’ve saved you $10+ by disclosing this. Of course what you can see coming from a mile away happens: this is a film that’s so paint-by-numbers it feels as if screenwriters Larry Stuckey and John Hamburg hired a focus group from every demographic to sit in the writers room with them.
This is a movie for Middle America – for the same towns and people who love sitcoms that aren’t actually funny so much as they are comfortable. There is a market for this film and it’s people that live in places that still have small downtown theaters some 30-40 miles away from another cinema, the types of markets AMC Theaters recently retreated from, closing smaller operations in rural Indiana, Iowa and Illinois.
With that said: you may like this film. It’s a movie to put on to fall asleep to, there’s not much to decode, unpack, or even laugh at. There is a defiance of the general principals of comedy that made the other films in the Meet the Parents saga funny. It’s the same principal that works in thrillers: we know something the characters don’t know. The fun (or suspense) is building to the reveal: Jack is paranoid and spies on Gaylord – as a story prompt there are many places one can go with this, so many under used comedic scenarios.
The challenge of a film sequel is to reveal more about the characters at hand, upping the stakes. A coming-of-age story works such as American Pie, for three films (not counting the direct to video spin-offs) they track characters at different phases in their lives – high school, college, and finally young adulthood/marriage. The same could even be said for Clerks and Clerks II. Here not much is left to reveal, the Fockers have two young children, but there’s nothing interesting about them save for a few traits instead of going a bit crazy. The film plays it safe which is unacceptable: there’s real talent at work here – comedians and professional actors, have they lost their passion for a quality product?
If for some reason this film does stellar box office numbers my hope is they do something radical and bring on a risk taker – I would be overjoyed if The Film Stage reports Werner Herzog is in talks to direct Mother Fockers.
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