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Little Fockers

An Unwanted Reunion

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars.

In Meet the Parents, a surprise box-office success a decade ago, moviegoers warmed to the painfully familiar plight of Greg Focker (Ben Stiller), a “male nurse” meeting his future father-in-law, Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro), a paranoid, autocratic, ex-CIA agent, for the first time over an increasingly disastrous weekend.

Greg, the victim of cringe-inducing serial humiliations, proved that watching a fictional character’s repeated failures can prove lucrative for any movie studio willing to indulge audiences’ tastes for that kind of material. A middling sequel, Meet the Fockers, followed, adding Greg’s Jewish, boundary-ignoring parents, Bernie (Dustin Hoffman) and Roz (Barbra Streisand). Little Fockers is a the third film no one wanted or anticipated.

Despite a title that suggests a shift in focus, Little Fockers centers, once again, on the conflict between Greg and Jack. Greg’s moved up in the nursing world. He’s in middle management, presumably earning a modest, middle class (or better salary). Jack’s still retired, still paranoid, still a control-freak, and still unhappy his daughter Pam (Teri Polo) picked Greg over her wealthy ex-fiancé, Kevin Rawley (Owen Wilson).

The presence of grandchildren, Samantha Focker (Daisy Tahan) and Henry (Colin Baiocchi), Greg and Pam’s five-year old twins, has done little to change Jack’s negative opinion of Greg, until Jack’s favorite son-in-law, Dr. Bob (Tom McCarthy), gets caught cheating on his wife, ending their marriage.

Facing his own mortality for the first time, Jack turns to Greg as the next, default patriarch of the family, nicknaming him the “God-Focker” (yes, the “Focker/f*cker” joke remains in effect), and pushing Greg to think long-term. Greg goes all-in, attempting to get his kids into a high-end, extremely expensive private school, the “Early Human School” (an over-obvious, slightly funny dig at New-Agey private schools).

Greg, already in hock due to the purchase of a new house in mid-renovation, decides to become the spokesman for a new erectile dysfunction drug, Sustengo, at the behest of a super-cute, super-perky pharmaceutical sales rep, Andi Garcia (Jessica Alba). Like Viagra or Cialis, but without the restrictions for heart patients, Sustengo’s primed to corner the ED market.

Little Fockers devolves into a series of jokes and gags centered on Sustengo and Andi’s non-platonic interest in Greg. Jack takes Sustengo, setting up a crudely uncomfortable scene where Greg has to assist Jack with the side effects of the drug (it involves a needle), a trauma-inducing incident for the littlest Focker, Henry. With only Jessica Alba showing the faintest glimmers of energy or enthusiasm (and surprisingly impressive comic timing), Little Fockers flounders from one ill-connected scene to another, culminating in an over-opulent birthday bash for the twins that reunites the Byrnes and Focker families.

Streisand and Hoffman barely appear Little Fockers. Hoffman appears in a total of six scenes, all added after early previews noted his absence (he didn’t sign on to the sequel due to contract disputes). His scenes unsurprisingly feel tacked on. In a diminished role, Streisand is slightly more important, but she was obviously an afterthought for the screenwriters and the director, Paul Weitz (stepping in for Jay Roach, the director of the first and second films).

That slapdash approach to characters central to the box-office success of Meet the Fockers tells you everything you need to know about Little Fockers. If no one associated with this insipid, vapid sequel had any interest in getting it made beyond a generous paycheck for minimal effort, then why should moviegoers?