One star (out of 4)
Robert De Niro, one of the greatest actors of his generation, stands before Ben Stiller, demonstrating the effects of erectile dysfunction drugs on the male member.
Fortunately, De Niro is clothed. His diminished dignity, however, is exposed.
Yes, it has come to this: 10 years after Meet the Parents implausibly took a stale sitcom premise about awful in-laws to major box-office coin, De Niro is reduced to shilling for the cheapest of laughs in the weakest of franchises.
Little Fockers, now under the helm of Chris Weitz after two installments directed by Jay Roach, is the third and demonstrably worst in the series, and De Niro’s strained antics are major reason for this.
There is being a good sport and there is career suicide, and De Niro is skating perilously close to the edge. I have to remind myself, and perhaps you, dear reader, that De Niro was the star of Taxi Driver, The Godfather II and Goodfellas.
Little Fockers could erase all memories of his better days.
The title refers not only to the inevitable offspring of Stiller’s in-law fearing Greg Focker and wife Pam (Teri Polo), but also to a vulgar surname pun that never was funny, yet here is beaten into submission.
So are the gags about De Niro’s cloak-and-dagger Jack Byrnes, the ex-CIA man who is still the main focus of the gang-written script, despite the title suggestion that this movie is about Greg’s and Pam’s now 5-year-old twins: precocious son Henry (Colin Baiocchi) and daughter Sam (Daisy Tahan).
Jack, a paranoid sourball, is still talking about his “circle of trust” and irrationally hating on Greg for being a male nurse. Yet — can you believe it? — he’s decided that Greg could be just the man to become patriarch of the extended family.
Recent heart troubles have Jack thinking about another cloaked figure, the one carrying a scythe.
“Are you ready to be The Godfocker?” Jack asks Greg, and the audience groans.
Just when it seems that the two are ready to kiss and make up — literally —trouble arrives in the form of temptation. Jack doesn’t approve, of course, and wife Dina (Blythe Danner) still sighs indulgently.
Pam’s old boyfriend Kevin (Owen Wilson) is back in town, having decided that Pam is really the one for him, after all.
Meanwhile, Greg falls under the spell of sexy drug company rep Andi (Jessica Alba), who conspires to have him promote a new erectile dysfunction drug. Andi’s last name is Garcia, which also for more tedious humour about names: it sounds like Andy Garcia, another Godfather actor! Too funny!
Greg and Andi “meet cute” (not!) in a scene where they must insert a tube into the anus of a patient.
Just to maintain continuity and build a marquee, Greg’s sex-crazed parents Bernie (Dustin Hoffman) and Roz Focker (Barbra Streisand) are also back.
Production note: Hoffman was supposed to have minor screen time for this one, but his presence was beefed up via a contrived trip to Spain after early test screenings suggested he was needed.
The only invention in this mirthless mess is the contortions needed to have Jack being both a heart patient and a dabbler in erectile dysfunction drugs. Viagra is contraindicated for some heart patients, so the script invents a new drug that can be safely used by them.
This means Andi can con Greg into promoting the stiffener at a medical convention, even though Greg is a nurse, not a doctor. It also means that De Niro can participate in that ever-popular gag about the accidental four-hour erection.
Are you laughing yet? Didn’t think so.
The only good thing that can be said about Little Fockers is that all concerned waited six years from middle installment Meet the Fockers before foisting this one upon us. That shows unusual restraint for this series. Otherwise, it’s a complete waste of time.
Can we please stop meeting these parents?
Peter Howell is a syndicated movie critic for The Toronto Star.