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Meet the Fockers

As the follow-up to the popular Meet the Parents (2002) — which pitted awkward male nurse Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) against his girlfriend's ultra-intimidating father Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro) — Meet the Fockers (2004) wasn't a second-time-around disappointment. At least not for Universal. Grossing $279 million domestically, it was the runaway hit of the holiday season, on its way to becoming the highest-grossing comedy of all time. And not only did it draw crowds like a series of Crate & Barrel grand openings, it also managed to become a huge mainstream hit despite the fact that the movie's running gag — now enshrined in the title — sounds very much like a four-letter epithet decent people aren't supposed to say in mixed company. Yes, when Robert De Niro blows his stack, he still sounds Jake La Motta calling Ben Stiller a "fucker" (as in "Put the baby down fawker!"), but rather than simply recycle the gags found in the first movie, director Jay Roach and team actually opted for some inspired casting, adding Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand to the billing as Stiller's parents in a loose reworking of La Cage Aux Folles. Stiller returns as Greg Focker with girlfriend Pam Byrnes (Teri Polo), who are now engaged. In preparation for the wedding, they decide to travel to Florida, where Pam's parents Jack and Dina (De Niro and Blythe Danner) can meet their future son-in-law's folks, the very Jewish, very laid back Bernie and Roz Focker (Hoffman and Streisand). While the film opens with an amusing montage where everything seems to go right for Greg and Pam, it's not hard to see the setup — the impossibly paranoid ex-CIA Jack Byrnes is obsessed with his new grandson, "little Jack," as well as his new, massive, Kevlar-plated motor coach, and Greg would do well not to interfere with either. Once they arrive in Florida, the screw turns again: Roz Focker is a free-thinking sex therapist, while Bernie Focker abandoned a promising legal career to be a stay-at-home dad — two details Greg would rather they don't reveal right away to his future father-in-law. But small disagreements soon escalate into modest mishaps, and then ideological arguments, and then worse — particularly when Jack becomes convinced that Greg has been concealing a teenage son he fathered 15 years earlier.

*          *          *

While it may lean a bit on La Cage Aux Folles and its mismatched families who are expected to bless forthcoming nuptials, Meet the Fockers cleverly mines the zeitgeist of contemporary American culture by somewhat shamelessly pitting red-state conservative patriarchy against blue-state liberal earnestness — shameless because it traffics in stereotypes, clever because the cast plays the setup for all it's worth. The essence of the original film — Stiller finding himself in awkward situations, with a sternly disapproving De Niro lurking around the corner or on the other end of some sort of electronic surveillance — is rehashed and still worth a few laughs. Adding Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand simply creates additional comic opportunities. Hoffman, who positively bristles with manic energy, drops too much information in nearly every sentence (his undescended testicle being one of the first things he mentions to the Byrnes), while Streisand (who came out of semi-retirement for this) is the Jewish mother who worries her son isn't eating enough, occasionally dropping a bit of Yiddish here and there in her inimitable cadence. Audiences lined up to see the A-list cast, as well as some low comedy that's become fairly mainstream in the wake of the Farrelly Brothers — a few pratfalls, De Niro wearing a big foam tit, a dog with a unconstrained humping instinct, the same dog being flushed down a toilet, a toddler repeatedly saying "asshole," a foreskin relic that winds up in fondue, Stiller looped on sodium pentathol, Stiller getting hit in the face (twice, violently), Stiller getting tased by a hillbilly cop… Oscar Wilde it isn't. Nonetheless, there's no denying that watching stars of this caliber playing for lowbrow laughs is amusing. And even if some longtime fans wish Robert De Niro would leave the comedies and credit-card commercials behind, his wonderfully understated menace in this franchise is worth every penny. Universal's DVD release of Meet the Fockers includes a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, with both theatrical and "extended" versions available on the same disc. Extras include a commentary with director Jay Roach and editor/co-producer Jon Poll, a deleted scenes reel (15 min.), an outtakes reel (10 min.), the featurettes "Inside the Litter Box: Behind the Scenes with Jinx the Cat" (4 min.), "The Manary Gland" (3 min.), and "Adventures of a Baby Wrangler" (5 min.), a "Fockers' Family Portrait" with three brief featurettes, a cast appearance on NBC-TVs' "Today" show with Matt Lauer (8 min.), a promo for NBC's "Scrubs," cast and crew notes, and DVD-ROM content.

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