by Richard von Busack
Essentially Little Fockers is a variation of Saw, with more genitorture, and more self-awareness of the comedy in its premise…not that either franchise, Fockers or Saw, is what you’d call funny ha ha.
Like its two predecessors Meet the Parents (2000) and Meet the Fockers (2004), Little Fockers is a machine for the degradation of Ben Stiller’s Gaylord “Greg” Focker.
Soon after the beginning, Greg is sprayed with vomit by his exceedingly nasty son 5 year old son Henry (Colin Baiocci). Later Jack Byrne (Robert De Niro), forces Greg to drive a hypodermic needle driven into the older man’s courting tackle. Where is this film supposed to go?
Below the belt, as always.
The series’ undertone is clear—the anxieties of Jews dealing with pompous privileged WASPS. The trilogy is about the contrast between stereotypes: a violently buttoned down hierarchical family, versus sweaty, smothering huggers. The subtext is most clear in the scene where Greg circumcises his finger over that Norman Rockwell standby, the roast turkey, hosing the dinner table and the guests with his blood.
The izmel, the ritual knife used in circumcision, is here a vicious weapon: a heirloom Byrne family dagger brought over from the old country. It’s as direct an accusation of old, unresolved violence as that Woody Allen line: “My granny never gave gifts. She was too busy being raped by Cossacks.”
Faced with these traumas, it’s no wonder that Stiller seems more checked out of life here than he did in Greenberg. Now salted with grey hair, Stiller manifests a mild sit-com grouchiness, eyes blank and staring at the emergency exit while trading lines with Pam (Terri Polo), a wife of terrific blandness.
His offspring are the little obscenities referred to in the film’s title: one is Henry, whose greatest laugh line is “Can a woman poop from her vagina?”; his somewhat cuter sister (Daisy Tahan) is indistinct except for her half-in, half-out baby teeth.
As it is the twin children’s fifth birthday, the Chicago based Fockers are visited by the grandparents, Jack and Dina.
From the trauma of the visit from his overbearing father in law, Greg faces one possible avenue of escape: temptations from a hot-pantsed pharmaceutical salesperson who, in Phillip Marlowe’s phrase, tries to sit in Greg’s lap while he’s standing up. As the letch in question, “Andi Garcia” (these are the jokes), Jessica Alba provides a resoundingly gratuitous yet strangely unstimulating underwear scene.
It’s weird that Alba is surpassed in lewdness by the 67 year old Blythe Danner, as Greg’s mother in law Dina, who flashes some lace and lures Jack in for a quick one while he’s on vacation. This is the source of the dire Viagra, or rather, “Sustengo” boner-pierce joke in the previews.
There’s some kind of appealing gaganess in the pass Danner makes and yet some kind of weird dignity; that's the essence of Danner’s skills as an actress. We have no sense of an elder woman's desire being disgusting…as opposed to the water buffalo-like estrus of Barbra Streisand and Dustin Hoffman, about which more in a minute.
Well, this is farce, and the pattern of this kind of farce is that women pursue like bulldozers and men flinch and wince. Greg’s marriage so completely sexless he has to explain to his father in law that “everything is fine under the hood”; Greg is further emasculated by his sex-therapist mother (Streisand) who plies him with musical condoms and talks about Greg’s sex life on her syndicated TV show. Meanwhile, Hoffman, soaked with sweat, shows off some flamenco moves while dealing with his “manopause” issues...just to be chronologically fair, these issues should have struck him sometime in the Bush the Elder administration.
It's a strange thing to see actors of the merit of Streisand and Hoffman so reduced here. To try to explain their importance 30 years ago, imagine it's 2041 and you're watching Angelina Jolie playing a horny grandma, and Johnny Depp as a grumpy constipated granddad, and Brad Pitt is a cracked old uncle in diapers.
Further humiliation comes from the reappearance of Pam’s old boyfriend Kevin, a new age trillionaire who is personal friends with Deepak Chopra. He’s come out of the woodwork because he’s recovering from a bad love affair on the coast of the Black Sea; this exotic location, Skyped in, is played by Marina Del Rey, just like Seville, Spain is played by someone’s backyard.
As that trillionaire, Owen Wilson does the role with such laidback deadness it’s an irritation to see him; there was a time when there seemed to be some mischief in Wilson, some self-awareness; this is time clock punching, grinning without the gripping.
There is one redeeming quality in this Little Fockers—one reminder that there are still movies out there with actual comedy instead of grimacing whimsy. Laura Dern is Prudence, the head of some phenomenally expensive private kindergarten.
Having really nothing to work with, Dern is still a familiar type: frighteningly thin, bottomlessly weird: the all-wise and at the same time absolutely infantile child wrangler, half-way dying with pleasure over every kid’s twitch of the finger.
Dern is, as diehard fans of Inland Empire know, a tremendous puller of faces. Some of the ones she makes here include: Kabuki Actor Upon First Viewing Great Grandson, Mentally Disabled Queen At Her Coronation, Evangelical Pastor’s Wife Presented With Nobel Prize for Most Ladylike Woman. Upon Dern’s twitchy shoulders rides the fate of a movie that might have been saved, if it could have been done. The burden is too much for her. She tried.
The script is credited to Larry Stuckey and John Hamburg, who directed I Love You, Man. Question: which of the two (or of the unsung rewriters) came up with the play on words about The Godfather that lasts three solid minutes, with Nino Rota-style musical cues to make sure we get the joke?
Who came up with the finale, for that matter? It's staged at one of those Southern California (posing as Illinois) kid birthday parties that would bankrupt an oil sheik...some kind of Arabian nights themed orgy, with live performers wandering around in the frame killing time. This mirthless kid fest is actually symbolic, too. Contrast this really resoundingly terrible sequel with the sometimes OK Meet the Parents, and you see it plain: here's a chart of the trauma of ten terrible years in American history; the red state/blue state struggle, liberal Jews and security-state conservatives having their civil war, ending in a stalemate with torture and misery all around. And leering demon children are in the sidelines, waiting for the spoils.