In 2000, Robert De Niro strapped Ben Stiller to a lie detector and interrogated him in a basement lair. That was the high point of 'Meet The Parents' - a witty and alternative romantic-comedy in which a male nurse has to win the approval of an ex-CIA operative in order to ask his daughter's hand in marriage. After ten years, one mediocre sequel and the departure of the director, 'Little Fockers' is an attempt to artificially extend the franchise's natural life with a follow-up that nobody expected, or particularly wanted.
After a health scare involving his heart, Jack Byrnes (De Niro) decides to appoint a successor as head of his family. He chooses son-in-law Greg Focker (Stiller) to be "the Godfocker". Once again Greg must prove his worth in Jack's eyes, this time as a leader and a provider. Not earning enough money as a nurse, Greg takes a second job selling heart-friendly erectile dysfunction drugs. You can see where this is going.
Viewers can expect some below-the-belt humour, some mildly-amusing slapstick and another predictable "misunderstanding"-type storyline. These things have been a staple of the other films, so their inclusion is not entirely unexpected, but to see this franchise rely on the same weak filler after ten years is admittedly disappointing. There is a limit to how funny it is to see Ben Stiller accidentally cut himself and spray blood all over dinner. Still, as it was with the first film, those bits serve as stepping stones to the scenes with Stiller and De Niro, who are without doubt the meat and potatoes of this franchise.
Really, it's all about De Niro - Stiller does a great job, but the main function of his character has always been for De Niro have somebody to bounce off. 'Little Fockers' is no different. De Niro dominates his scenes, and it is always entertaining to watch him do the over-serious paranoid act that he has perfected.
Thankfully, the film does not rely on the same old formula here as before, and the character of Jack Byrnes shows some development. The film makes a point of showing him dealing with his age, and there are some senior moments that are as funny as they are touching.
The story itself is pretty weak. As if admitting that the film is really driven by De Niro and Stiller, most of the other characters have been severely marginalised. Barbara Streisand and Dustin Hoffman, who demonstrated enormous entertainment potential as the world's most embarrassing parents in 'Meet The Fockers', are relegated to redundant cameos. Greg's wife Pam (Teri Polo), previously a central character, spends most of the time ill and in bed. Even the kids don't have that much to do, which is odd considering the title of the film.
There are a few unexpected good laughs to be had, and the De Niro and Stiller show is admittedly entertaining, but one can't help but feel that the franchise needs to end right now. For newcomers, 'Little Fockers' offers very little - they would be better off going back to where it all started and checking out the far superior 'Meet The Parents'. For fans of the franchise, for the sake of completion (and to see Robert De Niro self-remedy a heart attack), it's just about worth a rental.
Director: Paul Weitz
Cast: Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, Teri Polo, Owen Wilson, Jessica Alba
- Deleted/alternate scenes and gag reel
- Behind the scenes footage
- Theatrical trailers
'Little Fockers' was released today on DVD and Blu-Ray and is available to purchase at Amazon.