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De Niro's Dud

A great actor tarnishes his legacy in 'Meet the Fockers'

By Richard von Busack

DRIVING AWAY as fast as I could from Meet the Fockers I saw a rainbow gleaming through the latest rain shower. Bright the rainbow was, against the emerald green of the freshly watered East Bay hills. As the rain grew a little more persistent, the rainbow's double shimmered in the misty air above it, broken but quite visible. A man might well have thought himself on Maui.

I mention this because I'm hoping to let you know that I'm not really that cynical. I love rainbows and playful kittens. I love a glass of wine with good friends. But I cannot love a piece of crap, and that's what Meet the Fockers is. Jay Roach's sequel to his hit Meet the Parents has already set box-office records, and—looking at what's onscreen—there are three likely explanations. One is the lack of a "family" comedy during December 2004—a comedy, that is, in which babies, adults and senior citizens alike come off as insensitive dolts, so that every part of the audience can laugh at the other. The second reason must be lingering goodwill for Ben Stiller in the wake of There's Something About Mary. Under the assault of the repeated humiliating sexual comedy that made him a star, Stiller hardly seems like he has a lick of rebellion left in him: he is just steady, gelded and increasingly frozen as he waits for the blow, which he knows will strike him below the belt.

Third, while Meet the Fockers is a pre-sold sequel, forced through with millions in advertising, it might be said to have a little current-affairs quality. The movie's subject is red vs. blue states of mind. As it should be clear from the multitude of ads, the focus is an anal-retentive father-in-law, Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro, who co-produced), who has to share bathroom facilities with his in-laws. These are the Fockers: the touchy-feely Florida lawyer Dustin Hoffman plays, an aging hippie baring his chest and his feelings; and his spouse, a genuinely frightening Barbra Streisand as a sex therapist for geriatrics. The caricature of liberals lets the caricature of conservatives have it—the one can't bear a friendly abrazo, the other doesn't know the meaning of the word "appropriate" when it comes to conversation at the dinner table. Had you wanted not to see Streisand in a part Bette Midler may well have turned down as too coarse? Too bad—here she is with whipped cream on her breasts.

Roach's direction is as tone-deaf to the subtleties of slapstick and light comedy as ever. The movie chugs along like a chained series of TV sketches—a chain with loads of chinks in them, to use De Niro's phrase. As for the star and co-creator, he also must know something smelled. He illustrates his part with touches of spurious emotion that seem about as genuine as the rubber tit he wears to feed the baby. Says De Niro, "A man gets to a certain age when he has to think about what's important." What is it? asks Greg Focker. "His legacy." Meet the Fockers is now officially a part of Robert De Niro's legacy.


Meet the Fockers (PG-13; 115 min.), directed by Jay Roach, written by Jim Herzfeld and Marc Hyman, photographed by John Schwartzman and starring Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand, plays valleywide.


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From the January 5-11, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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