Movie Review

Little Fockers

Lots of stars, few laughs in ‘Fockers’

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By Ty Burr
Globe Staff / December 22, 2010

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Is there a statute of limitations for how many good actors can be wasted in a bad movie? Antic and only fitfully amusing, “Little Fockers’’ is the multiplex equivalent of a cash grab — it’s a three-quel, what did you expect? — but that only makes the quality of talent involved more than routinely depressing.

Yes, there’s Robert De Niro once more playing ex-CIA agent Jack Byrnes, paranoid ramrod father-in-law to male nurse Greg Focker (Ben Stiller). The ever-underutilized Blythe Danner is his wife again, and, as Greg’s parents, Barbra Streisand and Dustin Hoffman dash through at the beginning and end, spritzing happily because they’re not on the hook for the entire film. Hoffman, who spends his first scene learning to flamenco in Seville, looks fit, tan, rested, and ready. Unfortunately, he’s ready for a different movie.

Teri Polo returns as Greg’s wife, Pam, and Owen Wilson as her ex-boyfriend Kevin, the latter mellow and perfect and weirdly neurotic. New players include Jessica Alba, as a pharmaceutical rep with the hots for Greg, and Laura Dern, as the mealy-mouthed principal of a private kindergarten. Sadly, director Paul Weitz (“American Pie,’’ “About a Boy’’) and writers John Hamburg and Larry Stuckey have no idea what to do with either actress. Alba overacts frenetically — it’s like she has to pee really badly in every one of her scenes — and Dern’s plotline just disappears midway through. Too bad; her character’s administrative K-12 doubletalk (“No two early humans are alike’’) is the funniest part of the movie.

Otherwise, the humor goes below the belt early and often. “Little Fockers’’ features an extended enema gag and a box of musical condoms — and that’s just the first five minutes. Much is made of an erectile dysfunction medicine called “Sustengo,’’ and the movie’s comic high/low point comes when Greg has to inject his father-in-law in the privates with an Epi-Pen. Try explaining that to the kids.

That’s one of the few scenes that goes so far into bad taste as to be genuinely uproarious; otherwise, the jokes get halfway there and wimp out with a crude little splat. The original “Meet the Parents’’ was a comedy of emasculation that didn’t match its obvious model, “There’s Something About Mary,’’ but that came close enough for the studio bean-counters. True to its title, “Little Fockers’’ feels like the movie’s hyperactive grandkid, picking up and putting down various plotlines until you want to send it off for a long nap.

For moviegoers who were around in the 1970s, here’s the saddest part: Harvey Keitel shows up in the small role of Greg’s house contractor and gets a one-scene face-off with De Niro’s Jack. The two men circle each other for a few seconds, like pitbulls descended from Brando, and then it’s over before it begins. “Little Fockers’’ is the sixth movie the actors have appeared in together and it’s easily the laziest and least; what started with “Mean Streets’’ and “Taxi Driver’’ has come down to . . . this. They should have just brought in Pacino and called it “Mother Fockers.’’ Note to the producers: I’m kidding.

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Directed by: Paul Weitz

Written by: John Hamburg and Larry Stuckey, based on characters by Greg Glienna and Mary Ruth Clarke

Starring: Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, Teri Polo, Blythe Danner, Owen Wilson, Jessica Alba, Barbra Streisand, Dustin Hoffman, Laura Dern, Harvey Keitel

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 98 minutes

Rated: PG-13 (mature — mature?!? — sexual humor throughout, language, some drug humor)

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