Signs Of Terminal Decay
One doesn’t want to bag out Hollywood gratuitously if one is a filmie because it still is the wellspring of the film business for half of the world. I’ve always been upfront about being a fan of Hollywood cinema. Still, it hasn’t been good since the GFC set in and they curtailed development. This has led to a plethora of films where they were either the also-ran scripts prior to the GFC getting made, or ‘properties with an established track record’. The latter, in most, part has meant adaptations of books and comics and sequels.
Which brings us to this film.
What’s Good About It
It follows the previous film and loads up heavily on famous faces. Apart from the core cast from the first film built around Robert DeNiro and Ben Stiller, it brings back Dustin Hoffman and Barbara Streisand return with Owen Wilson as the love sick stalky friend of the wife. Added to this further are Harvey Keitel, Laura Dern and Jessica Alba who provides the freshest performance in an otherwise tired looking ensemble.
If you’re into famous faces doing cameos, this is an interesting one.
What’s Bad About It
It’s a pointless rehash of the first 2 films. We don’t learn anything new about any of the main characters. Which means it’s just another squirm-fest watching Ben Stiller’s character Greg try to live up to Robert DeNiro’s crazy ex-CIA character’s insane expectations. Consequently they’re all the same tropes going into these same jokes.
There are moments of levity but it’s a very empty film, even accounting for the fact that it’s empty entertainment that’s on offer here. As exercises in empty experiences go, it’s pretty empty.
What’s Interesting About It
After watching 3 of these, I’m convinced that Robert DeNiro – as funny as he was in the first one, is miscast as an ex-CIA man. He’s just not a WASP, and no amount of acting/faking-it is getting him there. It’s probably the worst miscast of DeNiro since ‘Bang The Drum Slowly’ where he played a baseball player from Georgia USA, or ‘Once Upon A Time In America’ where he played a Jewish Gangster. He was good in all three instances, but you never bought the premise that he was from these ethnicities, so to speak.
In turn, his best comic turn in recent years was when he played mafia boss Paul Vitti, in the first ‘Analyze This’. In fact the erectile dysfunction jokes in ‘Little Fockers’ come straight out of ‘Analyze This’. Perhaps it is against the ethnicity mismatch of ‘Analyze This’ that ‘Little Fockers’ has to be set against, because the squirming of discomfort done by Ben Stiller in this film is also a re-run of the cultural discomfort of Billy Crystal’s character in ‘Analyze This’.
The menace of Robert DeNiro’s Paul Vitti had weight, largely because of DeNiro’s career in playing Italian American gangsters. The menace of Jack in the Focker series is the weight of the surveillance state, but DeNiro’s recognisability gets in the way of that menace. DeNiro’s Jack is scary precisely because it’s DeNiro; and that’s a failure in casting.
This contrasts greatly with the Dustin Hoffman performances as Bernie Focker. Bernie’s role in this film is idiotically reduced. He is the grandfather suffering ‘manopause’ who goes in search of his dream dancing flamenco. As pathetic a subplot as it is, Hoffman turns in a performance that makes it look seemless and smooth and thus makes the character believable. But then, Hoffman is playing a Jewish character who is comfortable in his skin.
Watching it, I couldn’t help but think of ‘The Graduate’ because way back then, he looked culturally uncomfortable in the context of that film which enhanced that film, and perhaps paved the way for films like ‘Analyze This’ and ‘Meet The Parents’. It was a little more than ironic that he was dancing flamenco in a cultural mismatch.
Yet, one of the best moments visually in this film is when he ever so briefly squares off against Jessica Alba in a momentary flurry of flamenco dancing. It’s arresting and you wonder why they couldn’t do more of that. There’s probably a great film in that story: Dustin and Barabara are an old Jewish couple, but Dustin gets seduced by a young Jessica Alba who shares flamenco dancing. It would have been better than this film.
Jessica Alba, Seductress
If Jessica Alba came on to you as hard and fast as she does in this movie, what kind of man turns her down? It’s not a fair fight. I know she is one of the (many) women Derek Jeter rejected, but come on, there is no way Greg doesn’t succumb to that advance. This bit of casting and performance actually strained incredulity and I don’t think it says more about me than the film. You watch it and think, what’s wrong with this guy Gaylord Greg Focker? You do.
Robert DeNiro AND Harvey Keitel?
There was a time when you got both these guys in a film, it meant it was going to be pretty good. This is not one of those films. This is decidedly not ‘Taxi Driver’. It was sad watching the scene where Robert DeNiro and Harvey Keitel start arguing. It had no thunder, no tension. It just looked like a bad pantomime. It had nothing on the scene at the doorway in ‘Taxi Driver’.
I felt cheated. This kind of pairing used to mean something, like Ali-Frasier. Harvey still looked up to it in that his character was fresh to the story but Robert DeNiro’s Jack Byrnes looked foolish, and DeNiro’s never looked this foolish.
Erectile Dysfunction Medication Gags
It’s sort of amazing that the film spends so much screen time on erectile dysfunction medication. We already know that Robert DeNiro’s screen persona includes the legendary retort, “a hard-on has got be legitimately got” from ‘Analyze This’. ‘Little Fockers’ spends a good 15 minutes of screentime with DeNiro snooping, and then getting caught with it by his wife, then finding out he has an erection that won’t subside, leading to a parody of the ‘Pulp Fiction’ scene where a shot of adrenalin has to be administered, but in this instance…
You get the picture.
Everybody Looks Old
They do. Because they are getting old. The jokes are old. The story is a rehash. And That’s the post-GFC Hollywood of today trying to take as few risks as possible. And even with the shored up risk-hedging the film is a flop. It’s as if they’re trying to grab hold of as many demographics with one film, but reaching none. This is a retread of a retread story with retread stars of yesteryear, not living up to past glory.
You wonder where Hollywood can go with this kind of film making.What it reminds me the most is actually the Baltimore Orioles of the 2000s where they would try to build teams around guys who were past it. Worse still, in contracting the scope of projects so radically, Hollywood has essentially stopped bringing in new talent and new properties. By ceasing development, it has also ceased to do its own R&D for new intellectual property. The results we’ve been seeing in the last 2 years have been discouraging and in some instances devastating, and do not bode well in the long term. The product is going to get worse before it gets better again.