Film review – Little Fockers (2010)

22 December 2010
Little Fockers: Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro) and Greg Focker (Ben Stiller)

Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro) and Greg Focker (Ben Stiller)

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.

Little Fockers: Andi Garcia (Jessica Alba)

Andi Garcia (Jessica Alba)

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.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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Film review – Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009)

19 May 2009
Larry Daley (Ben Stiller)

Larry Daley (Ben Stiller)

For the new Night at the Museum film (again directed by Shawn Levy who also produced) Ben Stiller (Tropic Thunder) is reunited with his previous co-stars for another adventure involving museum exhibitions coming to life from sunset to sunrise. Since the previous film Larry Daley (Stiller) has left his night guard job at the New York Museum of Natural History to become a highly successful inventor and infomercial host. The museum’s exhibits, who are also Larry’s now neglected friends, are now being boxed up and sent into storage in Washington DC’s massive Smithsonian Institution complex. However, upon arrival the New York exhibits encounter significant hostilities, forcing Larry to go to Washington, adopt the night guard uniform once again and infiltrate the Smithsonian in order to rescue his friends. The result is a wonderfully fun and feel-good family film that perfectly continues the spirit of the original film but ups the ante with more characters, more conceits (paintings, photographs and historical monuments also come to life in this new film) and more exhibits to explore in the various buildings that house the incredible Smithsonian collection.

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Film review – The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

2 April 2002

The Royal Tenenbaums is independent director Wes Anderson’s (Bottle Rocket, Rushmore) finest work yet, with its finely tuned humour and complex characterisations that the audience can feel real empathy for. The all-star cast are uniformly excellent, in particular Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, and surprisingly Gwyneth Paltrow, who play the Tenenbaum siblings. Once all over-achievers they are now all in their 30s with many demons to face. Gene Hackman is a standout as the absent father whose attempts of reconciliation with his family are constantly ruined by his intrinsic selfishness.

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