Little Fockers is a Viagra-induced four-hour hard-on 

What the Fock

Everyone's a little confused as to what Harvey Keitel is doing here

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Everyone's a little confused as to what Harvey Keitel is doing here

It astonishes me that people — many people — proudly put their names on Little Fockers, even the ones who aren't on screen who could have escaped unknown. Maybe they all used pseudonyms. It's mystifying enough trying to fathom just what the hell an actor with the stature of Robert DeNiro is doing in a movie that finds the height of its humor in projectile vomiting and four-hour hard-ons. But I suppose he's stuck with it at this point and had better make the best of it. Though wouldn't anyone who could avoid being associated with it jump at the chance?

Some credits on movies are contractually obligated. There are particular ways in which, for example, writers are required by union rules and the like to be credited on a movie. It might not seem like anything other than a long list of names you're watching rolling up the screen as the lights come up, but there is precision and deliberation in how they are presented. I always assumed, as one naturally would, that this is something that unions have negotiated in order to avoid their members not getting the professional recognition they deserve. But a movie like Little Fockers makes me wonder if the studios aren't guaranteeing that the shame gets spread wide enough around to everyone that deserves to bear the brunt of it.

The act of creative violence that is Little Fockers begins with the title. The film has almost nothing to do with the children who bear that unfortunate name, and the violence doesn't end until ... well, it still hasn't ended for me, as I continue to contemplate, however unwilling, a movie that is both baffling and pointless. Director Paul Weitz and screenwriters John Hamburg and Larry Stuckey have neither the courage of their juvenile gross-out convictions nor the ingenuity to figure out what might be funny if, as the tenor of the film seems to suggest, they know they, as adult human people, really shouldn't be offering projectile vomiting and four-hour hard-ons as something other adult human people will find humorous. Because for all the gross-out that is here — like how Ben Stiller's nurse Greg Focker bonds with drug rep Jessica Alba over the anal probing of a hapless hospital patient — the story keeps running right up to moments that seem hellbent on, say, indulging homophobia or fears of male sexual inadequacy, and then stopping short, neglecting to offer a punchline, and trying to distract us by moving in an entirely random and different direction.

Little Fockers is, in fact, the cinematic equivalent of a Viagra-induced four-hour hard-on: It looks ready for action, but it never quite finishes.

Once again, Greg Focker, now a powerful hospital administrator, butts heads with his psychotic father-in-law, Jack Byrnes (DeNiro), over whether Greg is man enough to be an effective husband and father. This involves Jack interrogating Greg on his sex life with Jack's daughter, Pam (Teri Polo), which is deeply disturbing on many levels. It also involves letting the plot, such as it is, wander wherever it wants, as long as there's the potential for Greg to be embarrassed and unmanned in some way, such as by Owen Wilson's Kevin Rawley, the "perfect" suitor who Pam let get away and who Jack still wishes his precious offspring had allied herself with. It's supposed to be a hilarious contrast, the one between Kevin's obscene wealth and New Age touchy-feely-ness and Greg's ... well, Greg apparently makes a pretty good living and is a sweet, gentle guy too. Jack's objection to Greg never really makes sense.

Oh, but I'm thinking far too much about this stupid movie, and far more than anyone involved in making it did. If they'd thought about it, they'd have realized that throwing in random shit is a poor way to tell a story; twisting things so DeNiro can have an on-screen argument with Harvey Keitel, who comes and goes with little apparent rationale as a contractor working on Greg's new house, is simply lazy. And torturing a joke so that you can work DeNiro around to saying the punchline "godfocker" is downright inexcusable.

I'd call this a movie for those with a short attention span, but that's giving it too much credit. It expects its audience to have no attention span at all, so we won't notice when it's nothing more than two damn hours of arbitrary assholery and unconnected melodrama masquerading as a movie.

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