Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:48 - Released 10/6/00

While I am a fan of both Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller, I must say I am not too impressed with their latest collaboration, Jay Roach's Meet The Parents. The film is a retread of an unreleased 1992 version written by and starring Greg Glienna and Mary Ruth Clarke, directed by Glienna. Apparently, after that 75-minute film failed to sell, Glienna acquired De Niro and Roach as producers, hired James Herzfeld and John Hamburg to soup up the screenplay, and convinced Roach to direct.

It would seem a safe bet, given the success of Roach's Austin Powers movies, the current popularity of Stiller (There's Something About Mary, Keeping The Faith), and the legendary stature of De Niro, but the plot is too similar to Mary to be ignored, and in fact, the likeness tends to point up this film's inferiority to the 1998 blockbuster. In that film, Stiller played the misunderstood nice guy attempting to win the affections of the girl amid various other suitors, and one famous scene had him wrestling with a pampered family dog. In this film it's the girl's parents he's trying to win over, but again, the odds seem stacked against him; he is embarrassed, ridiculed, and abused by nearly everyone despite his good-natured attempt to take all the attacks in stride — and here the beloved pet is a cat. In addition to Stiller's typecasting, De Niro is playing his stock role of the intimidating tough guy, an ex-CIA spy hunter who is also Stiller's prospective father-in-law. The Herzfeld/Hamburg script supplies a few laughs here and there, but nothing compared to Mary.

Just as Chicago male nurse Greg Focker (Stiller) is about to propose marriage to his live-in lover, Pam Byrnes (Teri Polo), she learns that her sister has received the same proposal from her physician boyfriend, and more importantly, their overly protective father Jack (De Niro) and mother (Blythe Danner) have approved the match. As they travel to her home on Long Island for the wedding, Pam coaches Greg to relax and be himself, but as soon as they arrive, trouble starts. First, Greg's bag containing the diamond engagement ring he had planned to give Pam as a surprise is misplaced by the airline. Then he learns that he's not allowed to smoke during the weekend because Jack sees smoking as "a sign of weakness." Within the first few hours of arrival, his career choice is ridiculed, he breaks the urn containing Jack's mother's remains, and the cat-loving Byrneses discover (from Pam) that he is not a cat man. As the wedding draws near, things go from bad to worse. Greg is suspected of being a pothead, secretly videotaped, and forced to take a lie detector test, all while chawing nicotine gum and trying to retrieve his suitcase.

This film is almost too real to be funny. It is one uncomfortable moment after another — and that is what Stiller does best, but director Roach would have done well to tone it down a bit. Scenes that are supposed to be funny, like the legendary zipper accident in Mary, are just uncomfortable. De Niro is also not playing his role with as much comedic sense as he should; Jack's coldness toward Greg is sometimes funny, but usually just downright mean. And although Pam occasionally has a romantic word or two for Greg, it is often she who gets him into more trouble. The growing sense of Greg against the world becomes too intense for laughs, and the film's inevitable, pat conclusion is not remotely believable because of this. The immense talent of this cast is largely wasted here, although Danner gives a surprisingly real performance as Pam's mother. ***½

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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