Thursday, December 23, 2010

Little Fockers

Who's Watching Who Now?

It's been 10 years to this date when a friend and I were jaded over an increasingly commercial Christmas period, that we decided to skip meaningless countdowns, and opted to catch Meet the Parents in the cinema instead. An excellent choice, as the film turned out to be a riot, with Robert De Niro just about embarking on a career shift in doing comedies. And who can forget how the film introduced (at least to me) and popularized the much mimicked and spoofed "I'm Watching You" hand sign?

While Meet the Parents and its follow up film Meet the Fockers was a great companion piece, this third film Little Fockers turned out to be quite the misnomer. It isn't much about the little ones of the clan, a general progression one might add with the first dealing with convincing the in-laws that male nurse Gaylord / Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) will make the better husband material for Pam (Teri Polo) than investment banker Kevin Rawley (Owen Wilson), and the sequel bringing together both sides of the family for the first time to some hilariously disastrous results. While one may think that with such a title this film would be focused on the kids - twins Samantha (Daisy Tahan) and Henry (Colin Balocchi), but you get extremely limited scenes, and even rarer for the funnier moments, reserved solely for a stint during their interview for a place at a high end nursery.

My gut feel is that the shift in direction from Jay Roach for the first two films, to Paul Weitz, may be responsible for this. Director Paul Weitz may have had directed one of the raunchiest teen comedies in recent times with the first American Pie, and demonstrated dramatic flair seen with About a Boy and one of my favourite films In Good Company, but somehow seemed mismatched to further the mythos of the Fockers. Instead what you'll feel coming out of the Little Fockers is that strong urge to bring all the characters back together in quite hurried fashion, since stamping a mark means having a hand in taking charge of the characters and their lives 10 years from where it first began, and having a go at the main protagonists of Greg and Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro) all over again.

This spells a rehash of major plot points already covered before. While it began with what seemed a dandy relationship that Greg may finally have control over with his continued presence in Jack's circle of trust so much so that he's being earmarked as successor to carry on the Byrnes clan's prestige, the story soon gave way and went back to Jack's suspicious mind, honed from decades of covert operations, eager to prove that Greg has fidelity issues, and urges his daughter Pam to change her course midway to hook up with Kevin who continues to show how he's holding a candle to his ex. Now that's cutting quite close to Meet the Parents all over again, were most audiences would have already been.

The tone of the film in terms of its hilarity quotient got dumbed down too much as well. Gone out the window are the more risque jokes that the first two films had in abundance, and in their place were more dramatic sequences dealing with the bringing together of families, the issue of responsibility, wanting the best for the kids, the juggling of roles and I suppose everything that a typical family man, or household, can identify with very easily, which should make for its appeal. Dramatic moments, not comedy.

And for whatever comedy it can muster, it's left to quite juvenile attempts where you can see something coming from a mile away, such as those involving a Viagra type pill, and when you'd half expect Ben Stiller to launch into a blistering tirade against his suffocating father-in-law, and the usual mistaken intent courtesy of Jessica Alba's Andi Garcia, a drug sales representative who's quite the femme fatale here, getting into compromising positions that adds fuel to fire. Obvious references to The Godfather films with "Andi Garcia", "GodFocker" and De Niro himself of course, together with a Raging Bull moment made it a little painful to watch, as those were great films with a fantastic actor now relegated to making a spoof of his iconic roles then.

The story by John Hamburg and Larry Stuckey seemed more interested in stuffing the film with plenty of cameos such as Harvey Keitel as an unscrupulous contractor, Laura Dern and even Deepak Chopra playing himself, and having the original huge ensemble from the earlier films got shoved aside in a tussle for screen time, such as Dina Byrnes (Blythe Danner) who's quite invisible as Jack's wife, and that of the Fockers Bernie (Dustin Hoffman) and Roz (Barbra Streisand) in limited supporting roles, with even a desperate shoo-in for the Byrnes' family kitty. So much for the coming of the family, from going out there to the in-laws with the first two films, to everyone gathering at Greg's (at least that's the original intention) for the 5th birthday celebration of the Little Fockers, which turned out to be the Owen Wilson show of sorts.

It could have been a great comedy given the premise already all set and established by the first two films, but alas, that change in direction and therefore flavour didn't do this franchise any wonders. Good fun, but not great.

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