Meet the Fockers grants perennial punching bag Ben Stiller something of a holiday reprieve, redirecting its efforts toward obvious culture-clash chuckles instead. Having met—and barely survived—the parents of his fiancée, Pam (Teri Polo), in the original 2000 hit, hapless nurse Greg Focker (Stiller) must now brave his first in-law pileup. Needless to say, stiff-lipped Long Island WASPs Jack (Robert De Niro) and Dina (Blythe Danner) are ill-prepared for the patchouli-scented forces of nature that are Roz and Bernie Focker (Barbra Streisand and Dustin Hoffman), touchy-feely Jewish hippies who paw each other like teenagers and live in a garishly landscaped Florida compound they call “Focker Isle.”
Meet the Parents‘ intriguing queasiness stemmed from its leads’ sadomasochistic dynamic, the happy correspondence between De Niro’s ex-G-man top and Stiller’s eager-to-please bottom. Save for a little truth-serum experiment, Fockers minimizes the pathology—for a Ben Stiller rom-com, there’s remarkably little pain and humiliation. Which, for the most part, is not a good thing. The first film’s many jokes about Greg’s profession and his given name, Gaylord, are unprofitably recycled. A mood of anticlimax suffuses the enterprise, not least because director Jay Roach and writers John Hamburg and Jim Herzfeld have an annoying habit of stepping on their gags, telegraphing punchlines and payoffs much too early in the going (we wait patiently for the pooch to be flushed down the toilet, for the infant to get his mitts on the rum, for the scrapbooked foreskin to . . . oh, you’ll see).
Still, the stars attack their one-note roles with contagious gusto. De Niro’s brilliantly economical expression of utter revulsion somehow never stops being funny. Fockers functions chiefly as a showcase for the new cast members, and Hoffman and Streisand, with leathery tropical sunburns painted on, are more than up to the task. While Danner and Polo go unnoticed by the filmmakers, Streisand’s mother Focker—author of Is Your Vagina Happy?—gets to break up the boys’ club with a stream of loopy New Age sex talk, making a meal of her assigned Jewish-earth-mother stereotypes. Hoffman is terrific as a doting dad who fondly calls his mortified son “Gay,” flinches at the idea of his boy hunting ducks, and will violently cheat at touch football to prove his love. It’s a hilarious and poignant sketch of paternal devotion—one to file alongside his comic-humanist tour de force of the year, in I ♥ Huckabees.