'Little Fockers': An immature follow-up to the 'Parents' franchise

There are great years in movies and bad years in movies, and by all accounts 2010 has been ... pretty good. As often happens when looking at the films that opened over the past several months, it wasn't difficult to come up with a list of the ten best. If anything, in a year that included such stand-outs as "Rabbit Hole," "True Grit," "The King's Speech," "Black Swan," "Get Low," "The Fighter" and "Toy Story 3," it was difficult choosing what to leave off. These are my ten best films of 2010:
By Sean O'Connell
Special to the Washington Post
Tuesday, December 21, 2010; 6:09 PM

We must have been pretty naughty this year for Santa to stuff a lump of coal like "Little Fockers" into our cinematic stockings.

How bad is the third installment of the "Meet the Parents" franchise? So bad it makes the perfectly ordinary "Meet the Fockers" look Oscar-worthy. So bad the Hollywood Foreign Press Association should nominate it for a musical/comedy Golden Globe. So bad that this bland, pointless sequel features a gratuitous scene where the stunning Jessica Alba - one of many new faces added to an already overstuffed ensemble - strips down to her lacy undergarments, belly-flops into a backyard pit, rolls around in the mud, and I still can't recommend you pay to see it.

The reservoir that Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro previously dipped into when hoping to replenish their 10-year-old franchise has run dry. What remains, once the bottom of the creative barrel has been scraped, are awkward rectal-examination jokes, random celebrity cameos meant to distract from the sitcom-level scripting and hackneyed relationship quarrels that were addressed (and, I thought, resolved) in the first two films.

That's right, Gaylord Focker (Stiller) still can't catch a break with his skeptical father-in-law, Jack Byrnes (De Niro), despite the fact that Gay - ahem, Greg - has been married to Pam Focker (Teri Polo) for nearly a decade now and has helped raise happily bratty twins. But Pam is beginning to inherit some of her dad's suspicions, particularly now that Greg is working closely with beautiful pharmaceutical sales rep Andi Garcia (Alba) to peddle Sustengo, an erectile dysfunction pill.

But the prospect of infidelity is hardly the only issue challenging these "Little Fockers." There's actually a laundry list of inconsequential plot developments we're asked to labor through in 98 interminable minutes. Jack, who now suffers from serious heart palpitations, is obsessed with finding a successor to his "throne." Greg and Pam, meanwhile, aren't sure if their new suburban abode will be finished in time for the twins' outdoor birthday party. Bernie Focker (Dustin Hoffman), struck with a bout of "manopause," has fled to Spain to study flamenco dancing, while Dina Byrnes (Blythe Danner) is experimenting with kinky role play in hopes of spicing up her and Jack's sex life. Somewhere in the midst of this chaos, Greg has to impress the headmaster of a snooty private school (Laura Dern) where he wants his children to go. Seriously, when did the "Parents" franchise morph into a daytime soap opera?

The infamous circle of trust, once considered an exclusive bond, has been stretched and pulled to encompass so many tertiary characters and meaningless subplots that it now rests, limply, at the feet of its stars like a rope of taffy. And director Paul Weitz ("American Pie"), who takes over the reins from former "Fockers" guide Jay Roach, isn't clever or resourceful enough to tighten the slack. One or two cast members help when they can. Watch Owen Wilson ignore the nonsense he's been handed in the screenplay and wander, knowingly, into funnier territories. Let's scrap the next few "Fockers" sequels and get Wilson's spiritual guru character, Kevin, a spinoff. Because when Wilson's not around, we get Alba, Dern and Harvey Keitel, who all need well-written jokes if they're going to be funny. The fact that De Niro and Keitel, legends of the cinema, are reduced to trading weak-kneed insults in a watered-down sequel like this is a shame.

Mostly, "Little Fockers" trots out contrived comedic scenes that limp along without energy or rhythm until Weitz ends them, abruptly, with head-scratchingly bizarre one-liners or disgusting sight gags. Stiller gets puked on by his son. Stiller, again, slices his finger open with a carving knife and sprays his family with blood. And the piece de resistance, which has to be Stiller administering a shot of adrenaline into De Niro's medically enhanced erection. How is it possible that I'm more embarrassed for De Niro than he seems to be for himself?

O'Connell is a freelance writer.

Little Fockers r (98 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for mature sexual humor throughout, language and some drug content.

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