Showing up with a suitcase full of sex toys

Did you know that you can train a cat to use the toilet? It’s true, and Meet the Parents may be the first film to actually depict this bizarre zoological feat.

This is a pleasant enough movie, directed competently by Jay Roach (Austin Powers). The movie is quite funny in parts but misses the mark in others.

Ben Stiller plays a man named Greg Focker, and the film tries to get as much comedic mileage out of that last name as possible. Greg is planning to ask his girlfriend Pam (Teri Polo) to marry him, but desires her father’s blessing before doing so. Pam’s sister is getting married, and the weekend of the wedding is the perfect opportunity to meet Pam’s parents. Robert De Niro plays Pam’s father Jack Byrnes, an ex-CIA operative devoid of a sense of humour. Greg uses humour as a defence mechanism and many of the most embarrassing situations result from this dichotomy. Stiller, in one scene, comments on the drug subtext of "Puff the Magic Dragon," only to have De Niro counter with "No, Puff is the name of the boy’s magical dragon… Are you a pot head, Greg?"

Greg does smoke cigarettes, which he must give up for the weekend. As the stress mounts, however, he begins to pop back nicotine gum like candy.

One thing after another goes wrong during the weekend, until there is nothing left to go wrong. Greg’s efforts to please Jack have increasingly disastrous results to the property and his relationship with Pam. There are misunderstandings galore, such as when Greg gets the wrong luggage delivered and De Niro discovers it is full of hardcore S&M paraphernalia.

Owen Wilson (Shanghai Noon) appears briefly as Pam’s ex-fiance, who’s perfect in every way, adding yet another reason for Greg to feel inadequate.

De Niro and Stiller do fine jobs in their respective roles but the movie doesn’t give them a chance to really use their talent. De Niro can be funny (Analyze This) and Stiller can be very funny (There’s Something About Mary) but here the actors seem to be treading water. Teri Polo is likable enough as Pam but serves only as a shell of a character from which Stiller and De Niro can generate jokes. (It is pointed out that if she marries Greg, her middle name, Martha, would produce the tongue twisting combination, Martha Focker.)

The movie is harmless and frequently amusing. If you go to the movie expecting Austin Powers 3, you will be disappointed. If you go for two hours of light, diversional situationcomedy, you will be pleasantly surprised.

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