The law of diminishing returns is a law for a reason.
And nowhere are the returns more diminished than “Little Fockers,” the third film in a series that began with “Meet the Parents” back in 2000. With this one, they’ve barely bothered with a plot.
Indeed, they hardly took the time to gather the cast together in one spot. While Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro share plenty of scenes together, Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand pop up at the beginning (on the telephone) and then at the end (oh so briefly). Talk about phoning it in.
What little story there is has to do with the rapidly approaching fifth birthday of Greg and Pam (Teri Solo)’s twins. Her parents, Jack (De Niro) and Dina (Blythe Danner), are en route; his parents (Hoffman and Streisand) are iffier.
One undeveloped plot thread deals with the fact that Greg and Pam have a new house that’s being remodeled – except the contractor (Harvey Keitel) has been dragging his feet and bleeding them in the process. This is mostly an excuse for a brief chin-to-chin shouting match between Keitel and De Niro, reunited for one of the first times (and in a not particularly meaningful way) since “Mean Streets” and “Taxi Driver.”
Otherwise, the slim plot focuses on Jack’s post-heart-attack concern that Greg might not be ready to assume the patriarchal position in the family (“The God-Focker,” De Niro says, with a seriousness that’s meant to be funny and isn’t). That becomes more of an issue when mistaken impressions lead people to think Greg is fooling around with a pharmaceutical saleswoman, played with ultra-peppy energy by Jessica Alba.
The writing, by John Hamburg and Larry Stuckey, is slack and half-witty; the only truly clever moment deals with someone’s mistaken impression that Greg and Jack are a gay couple. Otherwise, the biggest laughs are also the cheapest: explosive shock moments involving projectile vomiting and a firehose-like spurt of blood.
There’s also a scene that is meant to match Stiller’s dick-in-the-zipper moment from “There’s Something About Mary.” It involves De Niro, suffering a five-hour erection after taking an erectile-dysfunction drug, submitting to an injection into his penis, administered by Stiller. Never let it be said that De Niro doesn’t suffer for his art; still, watching Robert De Niro working at an elaborate dick joke establishes a new low.
“Little Fockers” is as lazy a comedy as Adam Sandler’s “Grown Ups.” Here’s a movie that coasts on its lineage without actually bringing much to the party.