The third film in the Meet the Parents series takes place five years after the last outing and reunites the original cast, while adding some new characters and expanding previously smaller roles. Not only has original director Jay Roach been replaced by Paul Weitz, a sign of trouble to be sure but you know a series is in trouble when it has to introduce children into the mix...Writers tend to introduce children in order to expand their story when that story has run its course. Despite the title, the children don't play too big of a role in the movie and are pawns of the script used to create a reason for these characters to reunite a final time. I enjoyed the first two films in the series and I admit that I went into this thinking it was unnecessary but despite these reservations, I watched the movie with an open mind expecting a mediocre comedy that would entertain me for 90 minutes. While I wouldn't call this movie "boring," I was not prepared for just how mediocre it actually was.
Greg (Ben Stiller) and his wife Pam (Teri Polo) are now the parents of five-year-old twins, Henry and Samantha. Greg, in addition to being a male nurse, has taken a job moonlighting for a drug company after meeting the drug representative Andi Garcia (Jessica Alba). The drug is Sustengo, a drug like Viagra that is safe for patients with heart problems. It is pretty obvious where this is going to lead. Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro) has recently become interested in tracing the genealogy of the Byrnes family and has still has not completely warmed up to Greg. Jack has developed heart problems and does his best to keep his wife Dina (Blythe Danner) and others in the dark about the severity, while simultaneously growing worried about who he'll appoint to lead the Byrnes family after his demise. Among other things, the movie deals with Greg and Pam planning their twins' upcoming birthday party while attempting to get them into the Early Human School, an expensive, prestigious kindergarten. Barbra Streisand and Dustin Hoffman return as Greg's parents Roz and Bernie but with Roz hosting a TV show and Bernie staying in Spain, it's apparent that the writer's had little use for them. In an expanded role, Owen Wilson returns as Kevin and Laura Dern co-stars as Prudence, the director of the Early Human School. There's also a two-scene cameo by Harvey Keitel, which sounds greater than it is.
Only minutes into the movie, it feels like a work of lesser quality than the previous movies. Even worse, the movie is working with established characters that have already been embraced by moviegoers and yet it still insists on dumbing them down. Every character is basically the same and is embodied by the same actor, but character traits have become noticably more cartoonish. These movies have never been built on refined and sophisticated humor, but the humor drops directly into double-digit IQ territory. I'm no snob; I can appreciate and find amusement in double-digit IQ humor but this movie strains so hard for laughs it resorts to bodily functions, including flatulence and projectile vomiting, for laughs. Willing to go anywhere for the sake of comedy, it actually expects us to laugh at the tired gag of someone slicing their finger while serving dinner. It's hardly putting forth more effort when Prudence mistakes Jack and Greg for a couple. Low-brow humor is acceptable, but this type of low-brow humor is on the same wavelength as a movie like Daddy Day Care which it even shares elements of its plot with.
The first two films had plots, but this one can't be bothered to provide that kind of coherency. This movie seems like a series of separate gags, re-written as scenes and then strung together in an attempt to create a comedy. The writing by John Hamburg (who actually co-wrote the other two movies surprisingly) and Larry Stuckey is so uninspired and lazy its mediocrity brings down the entire movie. I have put more effort into my writing here than they put into their script. I honestly don't know for sure if this is hyperbole. What I know is not hyperbole is that this has the quality of a straight-to-DVD sequel. It managed to be a financial success, but it effectively puts a nail in the coffin of this series. Even the performances are by-the-numbers, lacking the comedic energy that made the first two movies funny. The actors and the movie fail miserably at re-capturing that old magic and you have to question any film that reunites Keitel and De Niro in the same frame and achieves nothing. Jessica Alba is the only significant new addition to the cast and since she's an actress that's usually heavily criticized, I must mention that she's no worse here than anyone else. I actually think this role would have been a good fit for her if it existed in a better movie.
As I mentioned, Kevin is given a larger role although his character adds nothing to the proceedings that another character couldn't have been written to do. It's like Owen Wilson was broke and hanging out on the set due to boredom and was cast and given a paycheck as a favor. Streisand and Hoffman are only incorporated into the movie because they were part of the last one. They serve no purpose here and are extremely underutilized. Hoffman initially declined to reprise his role after finding the script unsatisfactory and was only cast after he reached an agreement with the studio to shoot six scenes. It's no exaggeration that Bernie's role in the movie is literally tacked on. Is there anything good about the movie? Not really, besides the bit of nostalgia from seeing these characters together again even if it's under such unfortunate circumstances. Weitz is a capable director with a good script, so the direction is not as amateurish as the writing but there is really no saving grace here.
I expected it to be predictable and formulaic, but it commits the ultimate sin a comedy can commit by being unfunny. I'm not hard to please and can usually find something to enjoy about the most poorly made, poorly written movie. Imagine my surprise that this is so unsuccessful that I literally did not laugh once, a fact that is truly pathetic considering the talent involved. When there is a "Jaws" reference in the final minutes of the movie, it becomes apparent just how lame this movie is and serves as further evidence of the weak writing and sheer laziness of the filmmaking. The more I think about it the less it seems like laziness and the more it seems like indifference. Rarely have I seen a movie that makes the truth that it's a cash-in more obvious. Anyone (besides Teri Polo maybe) who claims they were motivated to make this movie by anything other than a paycheck are lying. Mid-way through the film Andi tells Greg, "Those stories about your family were hilarious." If only she knew just how much emphasis she should have put on "were."