By Kimber Myers | The Playlist December 20, 2010 at 3:30AM
A blatant cash grab from studio logos to closing credits, “Little Fockers” takes the money-making formula of "Meet the Parents" and "Meet the Fockers" and adds adorable kids, Jessica Alba, and glorified cameos from Harvey Keitel and Laura Dern into the mix. Families will flock to the holiday release with gusto, but it’s up for debate whether 100 minutes with the Focker and Byrnes families is worse than quality time with your own dysfunctional clan. Sure, there are a few laughs, but we’re not talking minor discomfort on the level with your aunt having spinach casserole stuck in her teeth and blithely smiling for the camera. “Little Fockers” is roughly as pleasant as enduring a rum-and-whiskey-fueled shouting match over the merits of the healthcare bill.
Six years after the forced fun of “Meet the Fockers,” Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) is struggling to find time with wife Pam (Teri Polo) as they parent a pair of twins (Daisy Tahan and Colin Baiocchi) and he succeeds in his role as the head of his department at a Chicago hospital. Though he spent much of “Meet the Parents” and its sequel striving for the approval of father-in-law Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro), he’s now poised to ascend the family throne. Jack’s former favorite son-in-law, Dr. Bob (actor/director Tom McCarthy, making us cry a little), has fallen from grace, and Greg can take his position as Jack's successor.
Even with Jack’s approval, Greg still feels the pressure to make his father-in-law happy and get the best for his children. Jack and his wife are in town for their grandchildren’s birthday party, giving Jack a front-row seat to Greg’s issues with work and home. Enter Andi Garcia (Alba), a sexy drug rep, who causes Jack to question his positive opinion of Greg as they grow uncomfortably close. Meanwhile, Pam’s former love, Kevin (Owen Wilson) returns and his affection for Greg’s wife isn’t entirely extinguished.
If it strikes you as odd that two of the Oscar winners in the cast, Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand, weren’t mentioned in the plot description, it’s because they seem like an afterthought in the stitched-together script. Hoffman famously held out and almost didn’t do the film, and the addition of his Bernie Focker seems like it was shoved into "Little Fockers" with all the grace and subtlety of Larry the Cable Guy after a few PBRs. He’s there at the movie’s beginning and end, having no impact on the meager plot whatsoever.
What drew the legendary De Niro and the otherwise talented Stiller back for a third round of awkwardness--other than contractual obligations and paychecks--is impossible to discern. There's little challenge in returning to these characters, other than trying not to die of boredom. At least we're not sitting through "Righteous Kill 2" or "Along Came Polly Again," but this isn't much of an improvement.
Though Polo and Blythe Danner never received the same level of screen time as their male counterparts in the previous outings, they're even less essential here. Alba (and her admittedly fantastic wardrobe) gets most of the attention as far as the actresses go, somehow managing to appear next to cinematic icons Hoffman and De Niro. She’s beautiful, but startlingly unfunny and made to appear all the more so by doing all her scenes with Stiller. She does try really, really hard though, so it’s a plus one for effort, and minus 23 for results.
Director Paul Weitz further strays from solid comedies “About a Boy” and “In Good Company” to take the reins from previous helmer Jay Roach. He goes back to his “American Pie” roots, bringing out projectile vomit, spurting blood, and a five-hour erection, but he gets more squirms than laughs with the gag-worthy gags. Of course, "Little Fockers" leaves room for the inevitable, unnecessary sequel that will make a future Christmas that much less pleasant. Mark your calendars now for more talented actors slumming it, fountains of bodily fluids, and even more unfunny awkwardness than your own holiday gathering. [C-]