'Little Fockers': Lack of boundaries, lack of laughs

Film review

January 03, 2011|BY BOB GARVER | Special to The Herald-Mail
  • In this film publicity image released by Universal Pictures, Robert De Niro, left, and Ben Stiller are shown in a scene from "Little Fockers."
Associated Press

One of the themes running through the "Fockers" series is that the characters have a real problem respecting boundaries.

In 2000's "Meet the Parents," Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) was reluctantly strapped into a polygraph machine by his girlfriend's father, Jack Byrnes (Robert DeNiro). While this behavior is certainly over the line, the film at least took the time to explain that Jack cared only about his daughter's well-being, even if he knew it was at the expense of making Greg uncomfortable.

In 2005's "Meet the Fockers," Jack was still interjecting himself in Greg's business, but Greg's parents (Barbra Streisand and Dustin Hoffman) were added to the mix. Roz (Streisand) was a sex therapist, and the topic came up in many conversations, much to Greg's humiliation.

Whereas before Jack actively defied a boundary, the joke here was that Greg's parents didn't believe in boundaries. They were simply unable to gauge how appropriate the topic was, even though Roz must have earned her degree decades earlier and the couple had years to practice the art of polite conversation. The film was a lot less funny because it was hard to believe that the characters could be so socially inept.

In "Little Fockers," another five years have passed. Greg is finally married to Pam Byrnes (Teri Polo) and they have twins. Greg's parents still tell inappropriate sexual anecdotes and Jack is breathing down Greg's neck as always.

Jack has recently had a heart attack and he is concerned about Greg's ability to lead the family after he is gone. Greg is doing his best, buying the family a new home, trying to get the kids into an expensive private school, and even stepping up professionally as the new spokesperson for an unflattering drug. But other people are interfering with his happiness by overstepping their boundaries.

One such overstepper is a family friend named Kevin (Owen Wilson). Previously a bit character, Kevin has been upgraded to something of a third lead. Kevin is incredibly rich, vaguely spiritual and still competing with Greg for Pam's affections.

This time he seems to be craving the kids' affections too. He's always there to comfort the family and to say something to one-up Greg. Greg is understandably unhappy with Kevin for his constant showboating, but Kevin doesn't take the hint and Greg looks like a jealous jerk for bringing up the subject at all. It's bad enough that Kevin is this stupid, but the rest of the characters look just as bad for failing to see right through him.

Another character who fails to see the way she violates boundaries is a fellow nurse named Andi (Jessica Alba). For whatever reason, Andi wants to have an affair with Greg.  Granted, she's actually out to violate a boundary, but she crosses a line in her methods alone.

She has Greg pretend to be her new boyfriend as she meets an ex, she meets Greg one on one after a fight with Pam, and she throws herself at him in such a way that Jack has what he thinks is enough physical evidence to prove an affair.

Come to think of it, Andi may be terrible at reading Greg, but Greg is the stupid one here.  He's living in a world where people fail to see such boundaries, he needs to come right out and tell Andi that she's making him uncomfortable and sending the wrong message to his family.   

Other characters don't see boundaries, Greg doesn't bother to establish boundaries, nobody is smart enough to be likeable. I guess at least the twins can be forgiven for ignoring boundaries, since they are literally too immature to grasp the concept.

Everybody else is just immature in the annoying, figurative, should-know-better sort of way. But even then, I can't forgive "Little Fockers" for ripping off the "kids say the darnedest things" device used in countless funnier films before.

One star out of five.

"Little Fockers" is rated PG-13 for mature sexual humor throughout, language, and some drug content.  Its runtime is 100 minutes.

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