I wasn’t expecting much from Meet the Fockers, a sequel to 2000’s pretty successful comedy Meet the Parents in which jokes about bad last names are made. While I like watching Ben Stiller suffer, I’ve seen him humiliated so much, it’s begun to give me tired head. But Meet the Fockers is a pleasant surprise. It carries on a lot of the same gags from the first film, but freshens things up by make the jokes about more than how many ways there are to sizzle Stiller’s Gaylord Focker.
At first things are going uncharacteristically well for Gay. He, along with fiancée Pam (Teri Polo) are headed to the home of her parents the Burns, where they will take a flight to Miami for a pre-wedding meeting between the two families. On their way to the airport a stranger offers to give Gay and Pam his cab. All the lights turn green for them and a ticket screw up lands them in first class where the evil stewardess from the previous film treats our Focker like royalty. After a bit of jostling in which Pam’s father convinces them all to take his massive, tank-like RV to Miami instead of a plane, we’re introduced to Gay’s parents the Fockers, who in an unexpectedly inspired bit of casting are played by Dustin Hoffman and Barbara Streisand. The film quickly returns to familiarly uncomfortable territory, as the two families’ different ideologies clash and Stiller tells ridiculous lies to cover up for his own parents’ oddities.
Though De Niro quickly stole the show in the original film, it is Hoffman in a wonderfully weird turn as Focker’s stay at home, tree hugging, emotionally open father that runs away with the sequel. Most of the film’s conflict and humor comes from direct culture clash between Hoffman’s Bernie and De Niro’s Jack, with Stiller relegated to more of a middle man rather than as the sole recipient of the film’s sometimes rather vicious attacks. Hoffman delivers laugh out loud moments as he stages a sit in under the wheels of Jack’s RV or douses Streisand in whipped cream for a particularly loud night of passion.
Aside from a few moments of embarrassing humiliation at the hands of Jack Burns, Stiller comfortably takes a side seat as more of a reaction man while Gay and Pam’s parents handle most of the comedic heavy lifting. For instance, his mother is a sex therapist who likes talking openly to the Burns about her family’s sexual history. Doing so is prone to make Stiller fall backwards out of his chair. His constant state of paranoia is for the most part justified, his attempts to hide his family’s oddities understandable in the face of his father-in-law’s manic, judgmental, over-protectivity
The sharp, funny tone of Meet the Fockers makes it a nice surprise and a movie easy to recommend. While perhaps the talents of great actors like Hoffman and De Niro might be better spent on roles befitting their stature, they are by no means wasted. Streisand and Hoffman are a surprisingly nice fit in the Meet the world, and their addition gives the movie new material that it might not have had without them. This isn’t just a second helping of Gaylord Focker humiliation, for once here’s a comedy sequel that manages to revisit its world without banally repeating it. Meet the Fockers is comfortable and yet unpredictable. The result is undeniably funny.