Review: 'Little Fockers' drives the Stiller/De Niro franchise into the ground
Boy, I'm glad I waited to write my top ten list until I'd seen this one. Can you imagine how embarrassed I would have been having to change it?
Oh, wait, I mean worst of list. That's right.
Wow. "Little Fockers" is just discouraging. I would imagine there is no one involved who feels genuinely good about the outcome. It's so dead, so calculated, so forced. It is a startlingly gross and dirty film considering it is ostensibly about the kids this time around, and it is a PG-13. Doesn't matter. They didn't make this for families at all. Or if they did, they made it for families who already hate each other and don't mind inflicting pain on one another in a movie theater.
Here's the moment where the film came close to just breaking my spirit: Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel end up face to face at one point. Yes, that's right. Harvey Keitel is in this for about nine minutes, and it makes no sense why they hired him unless it was just so they could say they had put him face to face with De Niro. It's hardly a selling point. The two of them just stand there and look at each other like, "Hey, I get it… I'm here for the check, too… but you remember when this meant something?"
I just recently caught up with the Joan Rivers documentary, and there's a sort of breathtaking moment where she's on her way to an event where she's going to have to share the stage with a laundry list of working comics, and they run down the list for her, with Joan offering up a few words on each. "Genius." "Clever." "Funny." "Very Funny." And then they offer up Ben Stiller's name, and she hesitates for a moment before offering up one succinct word: "Lucky." I'm not sure I completely agree, but Stiller is one of those people who has gotten a long way on the strength of the collaborators he's chosen. Left to his own devices, I don't feel like there's much we haven't seen from him at this point, and his work here is tired, indifferent. I don't believe Stiller most of the time. I find there's a chilly remove to him, the sense that behind his eyes, he hates most of what he does onscreen. And I wouldn't blame him based on this script.
In the new Patton Oswalt book Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, there's an amazing chapter that is fake script notes for a comedy rewrite, and it is one of the angriest, most lacerating looks at what passes for studio comedy that I've ever seen. Furious. By the end of it, you get the feeling that Patton's read every one of these scripts, and he knows exactly how bankrupt it all is, and he knows there's nothing you can do to change it. He has embraced the essential surreality of our industry, and that's why he's a success as a rewriter and a script doctor. The fake movie he describes in that chapter feels an awful lot like "Little Fockers," and I know what bothers me most about these films. I don't know anyone in my real life who behaves the way these characters do. In the first film, there's a very real social anxiety about meeting the parents of your potential partner that we can all relate to, and they just exaggerated things for effect. At this point, these people have done that typical studio comedy thing where they've had to turn up the aggression in each film, creating an entire movie full of sociopaths who no one recognizes in their own family anymore. These people tell each other elaborate lies and engage in stupid subterfuge and make incredibly stupid choices that make me question their basic moral make-up. As a result, by the time the labored set pieces reach the big finish and you've got someone stabbing someone else in the boner with a needle or throwing up in someone's face or in some other way humiliating or hurting someone for cheap laughs, it's hard to find any of it funny because it's all just frantic and fake.
Owen Wilson is insufferable, Blythe Danner looks like she knows better (she definitely deserves better), and quick cameos by Streisand and Hoffman add nothing to the movie. There's not really much of a through-line this time, and I doubt the idea of trying to become "the GodFocker" (don't ask) is as universal as the core premise of the first two films. So they just turn it up and hope no one notices how empty all the grotesquerie really is. I like outrageous comedy. Really. But it's hard for me to see Paul Weitz directing and De Niro and Stiller starring and then reconcile that with a scene where a Viagra-crazed Jessica Alba kicks a man 20 feet into an empty pool before jumping on him and blacking out. Really, gentlemen?
"Little Fockers" will be fairly unavoidable when it opens everywhere December 22nd.