The original Meet The Parents (2000) was a fun comedy about the culture clash between Jewish nurse Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) and his conservative, WASP, ex-CIA future father-in-law Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro). The first sequel Meet The Fockers (2004) was more of the same but with the inclusion of Greg’s freethinking parents Bernie (Dustin Hoffman) and Rozalin (Barbra Streisand) to liven things up. This third film, about the preparation for the 5th birthday party of the Focker children, is more of the same again but without any new elements and diluted to the point that it is difficult to believe that any of these films were ever that funny to begin with.
Rather than focus on Greg’s new role as a father, Little Fockers is once again about his conflict with Jack and all the mistrust, deception and spying that entails. As in the previous films there is the familiar pattern of a scenario, such as a family dinner, going seemingly well but then the resulting disaster and embarrassment that follows is always served up as the dénouement to each scenario. Except this time the gags are less embarrassingly and awkwardly funny but simply cringe worthy. Many of the jokes about parents talking frankly about sex with their children are recycled from Meet The Fockers and the long running series joke about family friend Kevin Rawley (Owen Wilson) still being obsessed with Greg’s wife Pam (Teri Polo) is stretched to breaking point. Otherwise, the humour consists of mistaken cases of infidelity, vomiting, anal examinations, erection medication and even a we’re-not-gay-not-that-there’s-anything-wrong-with-that scene.
Hoffman and Streisand disappointingly barely feature in Little Fockers and they aren’t the only actors who are wasted. Newcomers to the ensemble include Laura Dern who gets a few good moments but is underused and Jessica Alba, who is given plenty of screen time but only gets to deliver a one-note performance. Worst of all is casting Harvey Keitel, who’s previously appeared on screen opposite De Niro so memorably in films such as Mean Streets, and giving him a total of two completely disposable scenes. It’s as if the filmmakers just hoped that having a great cast would somehow take this now very tired franchise over the line but it hasn’t. Little Fockers has well and truly milked what little life was left in the series and while what is left produces the occasional giggle it is otherwise more of an endurance test than the light-hearted comedy that it wants to be.