-By Doris Toumarkine

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Ben Stiller's Greg Focker, a Jewish male nurse eager to marry into an upper-class, gentile Oyster Bay family, may not be in his element in Meet the Parents, but Stiller the actor surely is. Yet again, he's an adorably comic, sometimes clutzy and likeable lovestruck mensch (remember There's Something About Mary and Keeping the Faith?), desperate to get the girl but running into walls to do so.

In Meet the Parents, Greg has decided to pop the question to beautiful elementary-school teacher Pam Byrnes (Teri Polo), but first must garner the approval of her possessive dad, Jack (an intimidating Robert De Niro). Greg travels from Chicago to posh Long Island, where he joins his love and hopes to snow her family. But Greg locks horns with ex-C.I.A. psychological profiler Jack, who may still be in cahoots with the Agency, and gets swallowed up in high-gear plans for Pam's sister's wedding, among other family adventures and misadventures.

Greg just can't do anything right. In neat order, as such elegant high-concept mapping dictates, Greg, in gaffe upon gaffe, loses his luggage, must make do with ad-hoc duds, and unendingly and unintentionally wreaks havoc on this tightly knit, clubby household. He's the ultimate outsider, but inside or outside, he can't help but bungle.

Among Focker's faux pas (his name doesn't help either), he is responsible for the escape of Jack's beloved cat, causes the urn bearing the ashes of Jack's mother to crash, ruins the sister's wedding preparations and the father's plans to surprise her with a honeymoon, and brings tragedy to Pam's well-meaning ex-fianc.

Director Jay Roach (the Austin Powers films) maintains a lively pace and gets terrific performances from his leads and key supporting thesps. Blythe Danner as Pam's mother gives maternal and matrimonial martyrdom a classy edge, and Owen Wilson as the uber-WASP ex-fianc with both a Midas and artistic touch is a quirky delight.

Meet the Parents is high concept that aims for the middle and meets its mark emphatically and satisfyingly.

--Doris Toumarkine

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