Be honest. Who thought they’d ever hear Robert DeNiro say, I’ve got nipples, Greg. Why don’t you milk me? The once mighty and powerful Raging Bull has thrown his hat into the comedy ring, and he’s not half bad. DeNiro takes on his third major comedic performance in the screwball, slapstick farce Meet the Parents (Universal).
Director Jay Roach (Austin Powers) is known for forsaking plot for laughs, which is fine as long as the laughs are frequent enough to distract the audience from the lack of a story. The director pulls this off in Meet the Parents.
The first half of Meet the Parents is full of irreverent situational and physical comedy. While the plot thickens later in the movie, the liveliness of the cast and Roach’s comedic escapades make Meet the Parents an enjoyable, albeit aimless, romp.
Ben Stiller has become adept at playing the hapless romantic leading man, as he did in There’s Something About Mary and Keeping the Faith. Stiller plays a neurotic, Jewish, male nurse named Greg Focker.
Focker goes home with his girlfriend Debbie (Nicole DeHuff) for her sister’s wedding, hoping to get a marriage approval from DeNiro’s character, Jack, the over-protective and somewhat-psychotic father. The weekend spirals out of control when Focker stumbles from one disaster to another. Focker has second thoughts about Debbie when he meets Jack and Debbie’s successful ex-husband Kevin, played by rising star Owen Wilson (Armageddon, Shanghai Noon) in a scene-stealing supporting performance.
DeNiro turns out the most entertaining performance in the film. After years taking on a flat, tough-guy persona in movies, DeNiro shines in the comedic role of Jack. He plays a high-strung ex-CIA agent posing as a retired flower salesman. Jack loves his family, especially his cat, which he has taught to use the toilet like a human.
More than anything, Jack wants the best for his daughters. So when Focker stumbles upon Jack’s secret lair, it’s only fitting that Jack sit him down for good old-fashioned male bonding with a lie-detector test.
Writers James Hertzfeld and John Hamburg follow the Chekovian rule of comedy: if you show an urn with a mother’s remains in Act One, it had better get destroyed and urinated on in Act Three. The writers speed along the process in one painfully awkward dinner scene. The script is full of visual gags, mostly coming at the expense of helpless Focker.
Word plays on Focker’s name are the closest the PG-13 flick gets to raunchiness. Despite over using the name gag, Stiller proves an apt victim, holding his own in a very physical role originally created for Jim Carrey.
While the first half speeds by, the film gets schmaltzy as things shift toward a weak love conquers all ending. Meet the Parents is a good date movie. It will make husbands and boyfriends grin and shake their heads, trying to save their skin as their ladies ask, My dad isn’t like that, is he? The pain Focker endures is something guys know all too well
Fortunately, the physical pain that comes from sitting through another plot-less comedy is kept to a minimum thanks to an entertaining cast.