MEET THE FOCKERS

PG-13
Reviews

If starpower were the only thing that counted, Meet the Fockers could easily be called an "event" film. After all, leading players Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand have two Oscars apiece, numerous nominations, and a library of modern film classics to their credit. But despite its convergence of movie legends, Meet the Fockers is more like an innocuous studio comedy from the 1960s, with toilet humor and sex jokes added to suit the times. The sequel to the 2000 smash Meet the Parents has its smattering of laughs, but the new faces bring fewer dividends than the elemental De Niro/Ben Stiller showdown of the original.

Meet the Parents scored big guffaws from the efforts of Stiller's Greg Focker, saddled not only with a risible name but the "comical" profession of male nurse, to win over his prospective father-in-law, Jack Byrnes (De Niro), a rigidly obsessive and intimidating ex-CIA agent. In the inevitable sequel, Greg and fiancée Pam (Teri Polo) arrange a pre-wedding trip from Long Island to Florida, where Greg's future in-laws will have their first meeting with his parents, the free-spirited Bernie and Roz Focker (Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand). Greg has represented his parents as a lawyer and a doctor-all true, except Bernie years ago left the profession to be a house husband, and Roz is a sex therapist for senior citizens.

The conflict between strait-laced Jack and the bohemian Fockers might have been enough to sustain the comedy if developed organically. But screenwriters Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg are compelled to add a host of other complications: Jack's protectiveness toward his infant grandson, whom he's brought along on the trip; the revelation that Greg lost his virginity to the family maid and may have a teenage son from the encounter; and Pam's discovery that she's pregnant, a fact she's determined to keep from her conservative father. Like the first film, Meet the Fockers is more a string of zany set-pieces than a well-constructed narrative, but the segments here are more variable in quality. Audiences tickled by the outrageous will enjoy the gag involving the Fockers' dog, the Byrnes' cat and an RV toilet, and Greg's disastrous attempt at babysitting that brings together a bottle of liquor, spilled glue and a tape of Al Pacino's Scarface.

But Meet the Parents had the advantage of an even match between Jack's tyranny and Greg's determination; in the new film, Jack is simply outnumbered by all that Focker freedom. No matter how flaky the Fockers may sometimes seem, they're an oasis of sanity next to Jack's autocratic mania. That said, the film's most satisfying asset is the spectacle of a touchy-feely Hoffman bringing De Niro to a slow boil; Hoffman pretty much steals the movie with the youthful enthusiasm he brings to the part of a constantly horny nonconformist. Streisand, in her first movie in eight years, conveys real warmth as Roz, whose near-erotic massage of Jack is a comic highlight. Stiller holds his own in the company of veterans with his patented hapless-victim persona, and cuts loose amusingly in a banquet speech made cringe-worthy after Jack injects him with truth serum.

Meet the Fockers is almost instantly forgettable, but audiences won't want to miss this fitfully entertaining all-star party.