My problem with “Meet the Fockers” started right at the ticket booth when I slurred my words as I said, “Two for Meet the, um, Foh, um, kickers.” I’m not usually shy about swearing, phonetically or otherwise, but for some reason I froze when I got face-to-face with the sweet young female thing behind the counter at Salem’s Movieland.
We saw this film Christmas Eve, along with a handful of other family- and friend-less losers who had nothing better to do that evening. Fortunately Laurel suggested that we see “Meet the Fockers,” or I would have had to endure her usual complaining on the drive home (“What made you think I’d enjoy that movie? It was way too ______ [violent/ depressing/ predictable/ slapstick/ fill in the blank]”)
Though this was a perfect opportunity for me to get back at her, with it being Christmas Eve it didn’t seem right to make her poor movie choice the focus of our after-flick dinner conversation. Instead, we joined forces in agreeing that the first in this series of “Meet the’s”, “Meet the Parents,” was more enjoyable than the second.
So we recommend waiting to rent “Meet the Fockers” for a few bucks, which is about what a few hours with Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, and company is worth. Seeing De Niro’s cat flush a small dog down a toilet would have been worth the price of admission for me if that price had been, say, just $3.79.
And in this movie’s cost-benefit analysis you have to adjust the joy of watching the dog-flushing with the pain of hearing De Niro’s toddler grandson say his first word, “asssss…holllllllle,” (translation: “asshole”) about twenty times more than the once or twice that would have amusing.
On the whole “Meet the Fockers” tries too hard to be funny. This is the cinematic equivalent of someone saying “You’re going to really love this joke!” and then starting to laugh themselves just at the thought of how funny what they’re about to say is. Usually, it isn’t.
This is a big part of why Laurel and I liked “Napoleon Dynamite” so much. A DVD rental, I was surprised to see that Roger Ebert only gave it a measly one and a half stars (here’s a more positive review.) It had a long run at Salem’s art film house, Salem Cinema, and Ebert says in his review “I’m told the movie was greeted at Sundance with lots of laughter.” As well it should have been.
“Napoleon Dynamite” elicited a lot more laughs from us than did “Meet the Fockers.” It is understated instead of focking over the top. The movie’s geeks—Napoleon, Kip (his brother), Pedro (his best friend), and Deb (his crush)—are just like people I knew in high school back in 1962-66. I’m sure they also are just like people in high school now, in 2004-05.
Ebert observes that the movie doesn’t try to be a comedy or make Napoleon likable. Well, that’s why the movie is funny and why I found Napoleon so appealing. Though he and Dr. House (see “House” on Fox, Tuesday nights) are very different, they share a dryly cynical view of the world that is a refreshing antidote to Oprah-style positivity. You’ll never hear Dynamite or House spouting platitudes like “Freedom is on the march.” I’ll take Napoleon’s oft-repeated “Gosh!” (the way he says it is wonderful) anytime.
If you rent the DVD here’s a tip about the extra features: We spent fifteen minutes searching for a post-production wedding party scene that Laurel said was called a “must-see” in a newspaper article. But where was the damn thing??!! We watched every single deleted scene and scanned through every other extra feature. No trace of anything resembling a wedding.
Until I had the bright idea of turning the unlabeled DVD over. And there on the other side was what must be a “second draft” of the DVD. The extra features on this side were in a different format and included the wedding party piece.
Of course, after having such great expectations for the extra feature it didn’t turn out to be all that good. Worth watching, though, to see Jon Heder (who plays Napoleon) try to stay on a lively horse armed only with the riding skills of, in his words, “a horsemanship merit badge.”