The surprising success of Meet the Parents (2000) made a sequel inevitable, and it shouldn't come as a shock that Fockers recycles many of the earlier film's most memorable gags. What makes it special is the "stunt casting" of Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand as the wacky parents of Ben Stiller's Greg Focker. The story begins as Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro) and his wife, Dina (Blythe Danner), are preparing to visit the rustic home of Bernie and Roz Focker to celebrate the impeding marriage of their daughter, Pam (Teri Polo), to Greg. Straitlaced ex-spy Jack isn't very much impressed with the aging-hippie antics of the Fockers, who aren't afraid to openly discuss topics most in-laws would rather leave unexplored. Greg is a nervous wreck because he's convinced his sweet but eccentric parents will do something to traumatize Jack and Pam. Without giving away more of the plot, let's just say that his fears are justified. Director Jay Roach, who helmed the original film, reserves his ingenuity for putting a fresh spin on tired but still potent gags. There's not much evidence that his contributions extended to modulate the performances of Hoffman and Streisand, who are both pretty much over the top -- although, in fairness, the script more or less predetermined that. De Niro, not the most gifted comic actor, plainly looks uncomfortable as the butt of so many jokes, but he's pretty good as the uptight square opposite an unrestrained Hoffman. Stiller, who has mastered the comedy of embarrassment -- he's certainly had enough practice -- manages to stand out even when surrounded by all these old pros. In fact, he actually grounds the movie. Meet the Fockers can be faulted for relying on the obvious and settling for easy laughs, but on balance it's an affable time-killer that will warrant revisiting at periodic intervals.
The rare sequel that is far funnier than the box-office smash upon which it is based, Meet the Fockers (2004) is flat-out hilarious. Credit must be given to director Jay Roach and his team of writers for recognizing that the largely one-joke Meet the Parents (2000) coasted too much on the power of its high-concept premise and that any subsequent story would need to be more character-driven and superbly cast. It's a testament to their understanding of comedy that Robert De Niro's Jack Byrnes character is as much the protagonist of Fockers as Ben Stiller's shlubby Gaylord, which gives the story a little more comic elbow room, opening it up for the introduction of Roz and Bernie Focker. They're stereotypes to be sure, but character clichés are where the laughs and the fun are in this franchise. What is Jack if not the boiler-plate Republican father? What is Greg/Gaylord if not the next-generation Milquetoast boyfriend, and both Dina (Blythe Danner) and Pam (Teri Polo) if not the shiksa goddesses of the entire Woody Allen catalogue? Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand seem to be having a genuine ball as gooey-liberal Florida retiree foils, their energy kicking the rest of the cast up a notch. Even De Niro, who has been sleepwalking through some of his latter-career roles, is more engaged, particularly in his scenes with Hoffman and the twin infant actors portraying his grandson, "Little Jack." Meet the Fockers (2004) goes awry in a third act that shoehorns a pointless chase sequence and a star cameo into the mix, but it's over painlessly quickly and strikes the only false chords in what is otherwise a hysterically funny follow-up.
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