An Embarrassment

Robert De Niro and his co-stars collect paychecks in the horrendous 'Little Fockers'

When a 31-year-old Robert De Niro earned his first Oscar for The Godfather: Part II in 1975, the movie world lay before him like a Las Vegas buffet ready to be plundered by a fat guy.

When he accepted his second Oscar, for Raging Bull in 1981, the not-yet-40 method actor must've thought things were going quite nicely, as he was on his way to one of the most prestigious careers Hollywood would ever see.

Cut to 2010, 18 years removed from his last Oscar nomination, and De Niro is getting stabbed in the dick by a syringe-wielding Ben Stiller in the all-around-humiliating experience that is Little Fockers.

Travis Bickle deserves better than this.

When the original Meet the Parents hit screens 10 years ago, I sort of adored it. De Niro showed a flair for comedy, and I saw his slightly mental father-in-law role as something akin to Taxi Driver's Bickle all grown up and still a little crazy. But in the abysmal first sequel, Meet the Fockers, De Niro's Jack Byrnes went too far and became strikingly unfunny.

With Little Fockers, I find myself angry at one of my cinema heroes. He's just too good for this sort of stuff, no matter how big the paycheck.

As for Ben Stiller—somebody I once considered one of the most talented people on the planet—he earned a lot of recent goodwill with Tropic Thunder. However, if he keeps making movies like Little Fockers, that goodwill will evaporate faster than rubbing alcohol dumped on an Arizona highway in the middle of summer.

This movie is nothing but a setup for lame pratfalls, body humor and a pathetic physical showdown between Stiller's neurotic son-in-law, Greg Focker, and De Niro's psychotic patriarch.

De Niro's Jack has a mild heart attack near the film's beginning; he defibrillates himself with his lie-detector machine. A movie trying to wring laughter out of a heart attack in its opening minutes is a bad sign. The last time a heart attack was funny onscreen would be when Red Foxx feigned one on Sanford and Son back in the '70s.

Jack and his wife, Dina (Blythe Danner), visit Greg and his wife, Pam (Teri Polo), with Jack babbling some nonsense about Greg taking over the direction of the family in the event of his death. (He dubs him "The GodFocker.) Then Owen Wilson's new-age tycoon wacko Kevin shows up pining for Pam, and Jack starts believing that perhaps his daughter will make a life-course correction, dump Greg and take up with her rich ex.

In the original, Jack was nutty, but he kept it within the realm of reason, except for the whole lie-detector thing. Two films later, Jack is a deranged monster looking to destroy his daughter's marriage and ruin Greg's life. The humor in Jack's behavior is officially extinct.

Subplots include Dustin Hoffman's Bernie Focker traveling the world to learn flamenco-dancing. Hoffman, who originally passed on the film because he didn't like the script, was written into the movie after the thing was shot (and tested poorly with anybody possessing a pulse). Predictably, his scenes feel tacked-on. As for Bernie's wife, Roz (Barbra Streisand) has become a TV star who gives out sex advice.

Jessica Alba, who had a good year thanks to her work in The Killer Inside Me, tries to hone her comedy chops as a drug rep for an erectile-dysfunction medication called Sustengo; she winds up in her underwear lying on top of Greg in a ditch near the film's end. Laura Dern also makes an appearance as the leader of a school where much is expected of the pre-adolescent students. She's a long way from her David Lynch heyday, that's for sure.

As for that final physical showdown between Greg and Jack at a big outdoor kids' birthday party, both of these crazy assholes would be hauled off to state prison for their behavior if this were the real world. It's offensive that director Paul Weitz wants me to laugh at the sight of two grown men seriously beating the shit out of each other while preschool kids run in terror.

And what of director Weitz? Here's a guy who has made intelligent, heartwarming comedies (In Good Company, About a Boy), as well as total trash (Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant, American Dreamz). He also made the original American Pie. If you take the lamest and most-vulgar jokes from that film, and combine them with the overwrought and out-of-touch sensibilities that created Cirque and Dreamz, you get Little Fockers.

I think this irritating display will represent the Fockers' cinematic swan song. They can go join Carrie and the Sex and the City girls at a ritzy bar, drink cosmos and discuss how their horrendous 2010 sequels managed to derail their money trains.


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