De Niro, Hoffman as clashing in-lawsMaybe it’s because we’ve seen Robert De Niro’s right-wing-psycho act so many times that it barely even works as self-parody anymore, but “Meet the Fockers” isn’t much fun until Dustin Hoffman shows up as De Niro’s touchy-feely, huggy-bear opposite number.
Released in Korea as “Meet the Parents 2,” this is a sequel to a 2000 American comedy called “Meet the Parents.” That movie played off the time-honored fear of meeting the girlfriend’s dad (it’s time-honored among young American men, at least) by making the dad not just a retired CIA agent, but a retired CIA agent played by Robert De Niro ―who, for those unfamiliar with 20th-century American cinema, has spent 30 years playing the exact same spooky guy over and over again. (I’m exaggerating, but only a little.)
In the 1970s, De Niro and Hoffman were two of the handful of young guys who led what’s known in retrospect as a golden age of American movie acting (Al Pacino was another, with Gene Hackman as sort of an also-ran). Of the bunch, it’s De Niro who’s shown the least range since, but he’s also the one who always gets mentioned in hushed tones as “perhaps the greatest actor of his generation.” It’s hard to say why this is exactly, unless it’s because he’s the one who’s spent by far the most time playing violent psychos, which some people tend to assume requires special depth. For those of us who’ve always thought Hoffman should have gotten the better press all these years, it’s nice to see him steal “Meet the Fockers” away from De Niro.
The sequel addresses a somewhat less universal dread among the young and seriously dating, that of the in-laws not getting along. The engaged couple is slacker-generation antihero Ben Stiller and a much less well-known actress named Teri Polo, who doesn’t make that much of an impression.
Her parents (the Byrneses) are played by De Niro and by Blythe Danner, who doesn’t make all that much of an impression herself, which suits her role as the quiet, neglected Protestant wife of the domineering, repressed Protestant father. The basic comic premise is the clash of this conservative WASP couple with Stiller’s emotionally gushy, over-the-top, kisses-on-the-cheek, talk-in-public-about-their-sex-lives Jewish parents (the Fockers), played by Hoffman and Barbra Streisand.
It’s mostly pretty funny, thanks primarily to Hoffman. When the Byrneses pull up to the Fockers’ home in their state-of-the-art recreational vehicle (another Protestant tradition), Hoffman greets De Niro with a big, sweaty hug and a kiss on the neck. Within 30 seconds, he’s sharing personal information about his anatomy. (“I want to say more about my vasectomy,” he says later over drinks.) Streisand, it turns out, is a sex therapist for the elderly. There’s phallic statuary all over the house. All this sort of thing is guaranteed to trigger coronaries in rigidly correct people like De Niro’s character, which it dependably does. There’s also a dog flushed down a toilet, a confusion of parentage, a truth-serum scene, a baby who uses profanity and, in the end, reconciliation, lessons learned and a wedding scene. You could pick a worse movie to see.
Meet the Fockers
Comedy / English
by David Moll