Monday, December 20, 2010

Finding the Funny In LITTLE FOCKERS ...


- LITTLE FOCKERS is one of those movies that is just sort of depressing in its pointlessness. The first film in this series, Meet the Parents, was really funny. Not the greatest comedy of all time, but a perfectly entertaining movie that was good for plenty of laughs. But then, studio execs saw the great big dollar signs in the sky, and decided that Meet the Parents was no longer just a movie, but a bonafide *franchise*. And you know what happens when movies become more about dollar signs than good ideas? It ain't rocket science, people -- they start to suck. And you know what? There was something so off-putting, so cynical to me about the movie's sequel, Meet the Fockers, that I've never had any desire to see it despite being a fan of the original. It just felt so unnecessary, so clearly a blatant cash-in - not only for the studio but for stars like Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro, who should know better. But you know what ... you can't really judge people for their career choices, or fault someone for taking work that is offered to them. At the same time, as a fan, you want to see a guy like De Niro making awesome movies. You want to see him have that great third act to his career. And you know what else? There's no shame in doing comedy, either. De Niro can be a funny guy, it's cool. But come on, man. Don't go out like this. Little Fockers is just beneath its entire cast and crew.

I mean, it's not that the movie doesn't have its funny moments. I chuckled a couple of times, sure. But you know what this is? It's basically a nearly-decent episode of a TV sitcom, only longer. But an episode of a TV show exists as part of a larger whole. This is a self-contained movie. It has to tell some kind of story, and no, having Ben Stiller meet a new, overly-flirtatious co-worker is not enough. That's a subplot on Modern Family, not the basis for a movie.

In Little Fockers, character after character is dutifully trotted out ... for no apparent reason. Why is Owen Wilson back as the philisophical playboy who still pines for Stiller's wife? No reason ... just because Wilson's been-there, done-that character fills up time, I guess. Why are Dustin Hoffman and Barbara Streisand back as Stiller's new-agey super-Jew parents? Again, no real reason. Maybe it's because this movie has a compulsive need to thoroughly reference every character, joke, and semi-memorable moment from the last two Fockers films? You know, in music, artists usually wait until they've had several albums under their belt before releasing a greatest hits collection. Here, after two movies, were's already seeing the "greatest hits" reel of the Focker clan. I hadn't even SEEN the second movie, and still 90% of the jokes here felt stale. Just as bad ... they feel several degrees removed from actual human experience. In a series that's supposed to be relatable, supposed to be about families, the comedy has now gotten completely away from anything resembling real life - instead firmly entrenched in that fantasy version of reality inhabited only by jaded Hollywood screenwriters. That's this movie in a nutshell -- less reality, more Focker jokes.

Speaking of Fockers ... how much mileage can one movie get from the goofiness of the name "Fockers?" I'll tell you: A LOT, apparently. Or at least it can try. Little Fockers is like the movie equivalent of Ren in the Ren & Stimpy episode "Happy Happy, Joy Joy." It's like you're being hit over the head by a mallet as some screenwriter squeels "DON'T YOU GET IT?! FOCKERS SOUNDS LIKE FUCKERS! WHY ... AREN'T ... YOU ... LAUGHING, YOU STUPID EEDIOT!" A guy being named Focker is a funny joke, I agree. A. Funny. Joke. But this is different. An ENTIRE MOVIE FRANCHISE now exists based around this joke. To that end, your enjoyment level while watching Little Fockers is likely predicated on your tolerance for Focker-based humor. And look, I am a man who enjoys a good Focker joke. And if MY patience is worn thin by the movie's halfway point, well, what hope do others have?

Little Fockers just seems perfectly content to bring back the old characters, throw in a contrived plot point or two, allow some "hilarity" to ensue, and call it a day. There's Jessica Alba as Stiller's aforementioned hot colleague, who of course, De Niro thinks he is having an affair with (due to - you guessed it! - a wacky series of misunderstandings). There's Stiller's ongoing quest to get his father-in-law's seal of approval. There's Stiller and his wife trying to get their kids into an elite preschool. And there's something about Stiller getting swindled by his landscaping guy, who is inexplicably played by Harvey Keitel. Like I said, I think a typical episode of Modern Family packs more into a single twenty-two minute episode than this movie fits into two hours.

No, it's not all bad. There are definitely funny moments scattered throughout the film, and Stiller and De Niro still have a good comic chemistry together. In fact, their interactions are still, easily, the highlights of the movie. The stuff with Alba falls pretty flat, as does just about everything from Hoffman and Streisand and Wilson. But is there enough hilarity to justify this movie's somewhat dubious existence? That's your call. But, when one of the biggest studio comedies of the year is a movie that is, at best, a watch-it-on-cable-when-you're-bored/sick/desperate type of thing, then to me, that's sort of sad.
Actually, the whole thing makes me a little reflective about the current state of big-screen comedy. Here in 2010, most of the funniest movies of the year have all been non-traditional comedy hybrids - Scott Pilgrim, Megamind, Machete. Meanwhile, TV continues to be the place to find all of the really funny stuff - Community, 30 Rock, Louie, Children's Hospital, Futurama ... the list goes on and on. It makes you wonder if the traditional comedy movie is a dying breed. If Little Fockers is emblematic of the modern movie comedy, than, sad to say, but it might just be so.

My Grade: C

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