It’s helpful to remember that Meet The Parents was a sound idea for a comedy, turning the common anxiety of meeting future in-laws into a reasonably entertaining, relatable mix of cringe-humor and slapstick. The sequel, Meet The Fockers, strained the concept to a thin broth, but at least introduced another set of in-laws. Now that everyone has met, Little Fockers, the abysmal second sequel, literally has nowhere to go but up some poor guy’s ass. Barely 10 minutes have elapsed before Ben Stiller, still a male nurse (snicker, snicker), and Jessica Alba, a flirtatious pharmaceutical saleswoman, are working an enema tube in some disgusting dance of seduction. From there, the film piles on erectile-dysfunction jokes, blood, vomit, farts—anything to keep this zombie franchise within the general realm of mainstream comedy.
After terrorizing and later bonding with Stiller in the first Meet The Parents, then terrorizing and later bonding with him in the second, Robert De Niro is back to his old suspicious self in Little Fockers, terrorizing Stiller and—spoiler alert!—bonding with him again. Recent heart troubles have De Niro fretting about what will become of his family’s legacy after he’s dead, and he wonders if Stiller is up to the role of patriarch (a.k.a. “The Godfocker”). On the eve of their twins’ fifth birthday party, Stiller and his wife (Teri Polo) are trying to get the kids into a fancy private school while Stiller fends off his wife’s perfect ex-boyfriend (Owen Wilson), who still carries a torch for her. When Alba makes a play for Stiller, De Niro gets the wrong idea and suggests a “course correction” for his daughter.
Giving Wilson an expanded role in Little Fockers is the one good idea the movie has: He’s done a dozen iterations on his serenely vacuous pretty-boy character, but he at least stays above the fray. The rest of the cast either absorbs or propagates various indignities, like an extended sequence involving Stiller, De Niro, and an erection lasting longer than four hours. Old gags and situations from the previous two films are recycled at will, as if they never happened, and the whole enterprise feels exhausted and sad, like a performer too popular to be allowed a graceful retirement. When the conclusion leaves the door open for still another sequel, it feels like an invitation to a living wake.