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Non-Review Review: Little Fockers

I genuinely really enjoyed Meet the Parents. It’s a nice little movie that the family will occasionally get caught up in again if it just so happens to be on telly, a nice way to spend an hour or two that nobody can really object to. The sequel, Meet the Fockers, lost a lot of the appeal – but we still found it relatively unobjectionable. So, the third and final (hopefully) instalment of the franchise, Little Fockers, arrives and isn’t really that bad. It’s just not really any good, either.

Greg still don't know Jack...

What I admired most about Jay Roach’s original film was the restraint. This was at a time when Roach’s biggest success had been Austin Powers, so I was expected a huge amount of awkward innuendo. Instead, the film was actually quite restrained. I’m not pretending it was “high minded comedy” or “wholesome family entertainment” or any nonsense like that, but it never pushed things too far. Consider, for example, the famous sequence where Jack asked Greg to “keep his snake in its cage” as it were. Now, imagine you hadn’t seen the film, and I tell you that Jay Roach is going to have a father-in-law prohibit sexual activity under his roof. The version in my head, at least, would have been infinitely more crass and a good bit more vulgar than what we ultimately ended up with.

I mention this because Little Fockers seems practically sex-mad by comparison. That early scene could easily have been killed if either actor involved over-played their hand, or if the script went too far, or the director just pushed it a tiny little bit. Here, however, the film seems to live on the edge. I am always wary when any media attempts to use “erectile dysfunction” medication as the basis of a large number of jokes. It’s material that has been done before, and undoubtedly better. Plus, you know, there’s only so much about people wanting to have sex into their later life that is inherently funny – the longer the movie labours the point, the more you begin to question what might be wrong about a couple in their fiftie wanting a healthy sex life?

Turkey time? (Okay, that was harsh...)

I get the sense the movie suffers from the loss of Jay Roach. There’s no sense of restraint. The audience never gets the idea that any of the cast or even the film itself is holding itself back. It will always go for the overly-involved reference (“the Godfocker”, for example) or the lowest common denominator (a shot of adrenaline to a very private area). This isn’t, in fairness, always a bad thing. Near the end of the movie, for example, we are treated to perhaps the best Jaws reference I have seen in a quite a while. One doubts that Roach would have dared to venture into full blow parody as Greg screams, “get out of the ball pit! get out of the ball pit!” and I don’t think the scene would have worked in either of the two films he did for the series. Still, the film suffers from not really having its own identity, and seems to wandering around in search of jokes.

Which, to be honest, would be grand if it found them consistently. There are a few nice moments present in the film, with more than few smiles and a quiet suppressed chuckle to be shared every now and again, but not enough to make a comedy really work. There are long stretches where nothing appears to be happening, and the movie is just stressing a joke that might have been funny if it had been a quick line or a two-second shot, but suffers from being stretched out.

The movie fails to build on a solid foundation...

The cast is great. I mean that in a sort of a greater context, in that it’s composed of great people. In the film here… the are not so great. The film suffers because it includes the entire Focker ensemble (and three new additions in the forms of Jessica Alba, Laura Dern and Harvey Keitel), and tries to do something with everybody. So, despite the fact that Barbara Streisand and Dustin Hoffman have about ten minutes of screentime, the movie give them their own extremely rushed character arc – which is, to be frank, completely unnecessary. The cast themselves are grand and workman-like, although Alba does occasionally go too far overboard. One has to wonder what Keitel is doing in the film, since he really does nothing.

That probably reads harsher than it should, but I was disappointed. There are a few chuckles to be found, but not too many – and certainly not enough to justify the runtime. The movie labours its jokes, indifferent to whether they work or not, and leaves most of its cast stuck in something of a holding pattern. And that’s a Focking shame.

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