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Meet the Fockers

(2004) * 1/2 Pg-13
114 min. Universal Pictures. Directors: Jay Roach, Marco Schnabel. Cast: Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller, Teri Polo, Blythe Danner, Dustin Hoffman.

As a professed Robert DeNiro fan, I may not have any credibility when I say this, but DeNiro is pretty much the only reason to see Meet the Fockers. With everything else falling apart around him, DeNiro reminds us of the greatness of his starchy Jack Byrnes character, born in 2000's silly but entertaining Meet the Parents. DeNiro plays Byrnes--a retired CIA agent, old-school conservative, and repressed mama's boy—with equal parts of Mr. Rogers' creative, fuzzy-sweatered enthusiasm and Rambo's heart of darkness. This joke still works four years later, but everything else in this shrill sequel tries too hard.

Meet the Parents director Jay Roach rounds up DeNiro's family—son-in-law Ben Stiller, daughter Teri Polo, wife Blythe Danner—and adds Stiller's parents, a couple of Jewish hippies played by Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand. He's a gregarious retired lawyer; she's a Yiddish-spewing, touchy-feely sex therapist: they're a too-much-information couple, mortifying every unfortunate they meet (Byrnes hedges, "They're off-color, but very nice"). Hoffman's performance is energetic but done in by the unfocused script, Streisand's lackluster performance suggests that she gave up early.

Of course, Meet the Fockers doesn't offer plot so much as cycles of embarrassment, and screenwriters Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg betray such creative exhaustion that they roll back over old jokes mocking Stiller's character for being a male nurse and spinning endless unfunny iterations of the name Focker. Between Randy Newman songs, not much that's convincing takes place: Byrnes invents a strap-on breast, sodium pentothal is administered, the circle of trust is broken. The wrap-up is even less convincing than what precedes it: I'm not even convinced that Meet the Fockers is a fully-realized movie.

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