Little Fockers

“Little Fockers” would be a lot less painful to watch if its cast of victims didn’t include so many beloved actors. Replace De Niro, Stiller, and Hoffman with a bunch of D-listers and it would still be terrible — the screenplay is unsalvageable — but at least then it wouldn’t feel like a punch in the movie lover’s gut.

Arriving six years to the day after “Meet the Fockers,” this third film in the “Meet the Parents” saga is one of the dullest, laziest, unfunniest comedies I’ve ever seen that didn’t go straight to DVD and have the words “National Lampoon” attached to it. Most of the gags from the first two films are repeated, only now they’re broadly telegraphed so that you’ll never NOT see the joke coming before it arrives. Any character growth that occurred previously is forgotten so that we can revert back to the basics: De Niro doesn’t trust Stiller, Stiller keeps accidentally messing things up, and Stiller’s last name is Focker. (DO YOU GET IT??? 

In addition, you may be interested to know that “Little Fockers” includes many reminders that farts, vomit, and erections are funny. They are so funny, in fact, that you needn’t write actual jokes around them. Just toss ’em up there on the screen! A kid barfing on someone is comedy gold, period.

Not that these movies were ever exactly classy, but good grief, what happened? Everything in this disaster reeks of desperation. The screenplay, by franchise veteran John Hamburg and “Meet the Fockers” associate producer Larry Stuckey, is an embarrassing shambles, without a coherent story line or any clear reason for existing. The normally talented director Paul Weitz (“American Pie,” “About a Boy”), replacing Jay Roach, is helpless. The characters, many of them given nothing to do, just wander around, bumping into each other and doing their usual shtick.

I once saw a high school production of “Grease” where they had some technical difficulties and had to stall for time, so the director sent the main actors onstage, in character, to improvise a scene. “Little Fockers” feels like 98 minutes of that. 

We reunite with Greg (Ben Stiller) and Pam Focker (Teri Polo) as they prepare to celebrate their twins’ fifth birthday. Pam’s parents, Jack (Robert De Niro) and Dina Byrnes (Blythe Danner), come to Chicago several days in advance (the twins’ fifth birthday is a weeklong affair, like Lollapalooza), and Jack tells Greg that he must be the family patriarch after Jack is gone, which may happen sooner than later, as Jack has been having heart problems. For some reason, Greg takes all this to mean that he should put the twins in a snooty private kindergarten even though he can’t afford it.

(Pam is sick with the flu on the day Greg is visiting the school, so Jack goes with him. That scenario, plus some clueless dialogue, allows the school administrator to mistake Greg and Jack for a gay couple which = hilarity. The next day, Pam is up and around and the flu is never mentioned again. In other words, the writers needed her to be incapacitated just long enough to miss the school visit, but were too lazy to work it into the screenplay organically.)

To earn extra cash, Greg does some work for a pharmaceutical company represented by a hot chick named Andi (Jessica Alba), who’s pushing an erectile-dysfunction pill called Sustengo. Andi talks and flirts like a 16-year-old girl, flustering Greg. She helps him administer an enema to a patient (it is OK for pharmaceutical reps to do this), and the act is rife with double entendre. Barely 15 minutes in and already the film has moved below the waist, never to re-ascend.

Everything Andi does is designed to give the wrong impression. For example, when Greg is scheduled to speak for her company at a conference at the downtown Hilton, she sends this text message: “cant wait to see you at the hotel tonite!!!” That is not what a grown-up of any profession would write, of course, let alone a representative for a pharmaceutical company. But it gives Jack something to misinterpret when he looks at Greg’s cell phone. After the conference, Andi takes a photo of her harmlessly kissing Greg on the cheek, then posts it to her MySpace page with the caption “crazy night at the hotel!!” Again, utter nonsense. But just wait till Jack googles Andi and finds her MySpace page!! (Where does one find a MySpace page, anyway? An Internet museum?)

Greg’s parents, Bernie (Dustin Hoffman) and Roz (Barbra Streisand), will be in town shortly. They serve no function in the story, but hey, the producers convinced Hoffman and Streisand to come back, so they are GOING TO BE IN THE FILM. I thought there were a couple lines about Roz not supporting Bernie as he pursues his dream of becoming a flamenco dancer … but now that I think about it, I realize this cannot possibly be what the movie said, so let’s assume I was hallucinating.

I definitely was not hallucinating when Greg sliced his finger while carving a turkey and sent blood spraying all over the dining room, or when Jack took a Sustengo and Greg had to inject a needle into his erect penis to prevent lasting injury, an act witnessed by one of the Focker twins. I also was not imagining things when Jack’s beloved cat arrived at the birthday party, having been flown in from New York especially for the occasion by Pam’s old boyfriend Kevin (Owen Wilson). Why would Kevin go to that kind of trouble and expense when Jack and Dina could have brought the cat with them in the first place if they’d wanted to? So that the cat can eat the little Focker boy’s pet lizard, obviously. Like Hoffman, the cat was probably holding out for more money before agreeing to appear in the film, and once the papers were signed the producers were desperate to find an excuse to squeeze him into the story.

Elsewhere in the movie, in an act of unmotivated and implausible spite, Jack openly declares that Pam should dump Greg — her husband, the father of her children — and reconcile with Kevin. Jack says this because he thinks Greg is cheating on Pam — a completely false allegation that Greg makes no effort to disprove. Why? Because addressing it head-on would mean Jack couldn’t continue misunderstanding for the rest of the film.

The Fockers are renovating their house. The project is overseen by a contractor played by Harvey Keitel. Keitel and De Niro have one scene together, just so someone can say Keitel and De Niro had a scene together. Then Keitel disappears and is never mentioned again.

The point I’m trying to express is that this is not a “movie” in the way that term is normally understood. It is a garish collection of awful comedy sketches whose only connection to one another is that they involve characters we have seen before. The elements that made “Meet the Parents” a treat — the surprise, the novelty, the sharp banter — are long gone. This is a pale, sickly imitation of the original, so derivative and putrid that you’d think it was the fifth sequel, not the second.

F (1 hr., 40 min.; PG-13, moderate profanity, a ton of vulgarity, sexual innuendo, endless references to a Viagra-like product and all it entails.)