In Meet the Parents, Ben Stiller plays Greg Focker, who is visiting his girlfriend Pam's parents for the first time. Greg feels that he must impress Pam's father, Jack, in order to gain his blessing. Only then can he ask Pam to marry him. As with almost every character Stiller plays, Greg is a likeable, bumbling loser whose only real adversary is Murphy's Law. If something can go wrong for poor Greg, you can be certain that it will.
Robert DeNiro plays Jack Byrnes, Pam's father. Jack is an expert in the arts of surveillance and interrogation, and revels in using that knowledge to evaluate the worthiness of Pam's new boyfriend. Jack claims to value honor and trust above all else, but doesn't seem to really trust anyone. Greg has no idea what he's in for, and, of course, comic merriment ensues.
Along for the ride, just to make things even more difficult for Greg, is Owen Wilson, who plays Kevin, Pam's ex-boyfriend. Kevin is the opposite of Greg in every way, and can seemingly do no wrong. Once again, comic merriment ensues.
This is a classic screwball-comedy that is silly for the sake of silliness, and everyone involved knows it. Director Jay Roach, of Austin Powers fame, delights in giving us Norman Rockwell-like set-ups that proceed to go horribly, horribly wrong. DeNiro is great as the skeptical Jack, and continues to prove, as he did in Analyse This, that his comic timing is as sharp as his dramatic edge. Meanwhile, Stiller plays to type, fumbling his way through each scene with predictable 'Ben Stillerish' banter and naivety. The others in the film serve to support the main story between DeNiro and Stiller, but do little else. This is as it should be. The comedy lies in that relationship, and to water it down with subplots would only lessen the laughs.
As far as those laughs are concerned, there are plenty! The only joke that really goes sour is a running gag about Greg's last name. It's the joke that just won't go away, and was probably put in only so the 13 year-olds in the audience wouldn't get bored. It may also have been an experiment to see how many times they could use it, and still retain a PG-13 rating. Either way, it was funny the first couple times, but after about the fifth or sixth time I began to dread its inevitable return.
So, all in all, if you're looking for pure, silly fun, that doesn't require anything remotely approaching 'thought', Meet the Parents should do quite nicely. It's perfect for those holiday family get-togethers!
Directed By: Jay Roach
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Ben Stiller,
Teri Polo, Blythe Danner, Owen Wilson
Rated: PG-13 (Language / Sexual and drug-related humor)
Running Time: 107 Min.