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Meet the Parents

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Meet the Parents

Starring: Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller
Director: Jay Roach
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 108 Minutes
Release Date: October 2000
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Blythe Danner, Teri Polo, Owen Wilson, Spencer Breslin, Phyllis George, Tom Hodges, James Rebhorn, Nicole De Huff

Review by Steve Rhodes
3½ stars out of 4

Robert De Niro is at the top of his comedic form in MEET THE PARENTS. Playing, Jack Byrnes, a future father-in-law from hell, De Niro clearly has the time of his life ruling the story's comedic roost. The rest of the cast fits nicely into the groove he creates for them. And Jay Roach, director of both of the AUSTIN POWERS pictures, sets an absolutely perfect comedic pace.

The result is a movie that can have you laughing so hard that you run the risk of injuring yourself. My son kept telling my wife to breathe, worrying that she was going to make herself sick since she was laughing so hard that she was starting to choke. (My septuagenarian parents were busting a gut as well.) And in some of the longer jokes, such as a discussion about whether milking a cat is possible, the laughs build to such a crescendo that some of the best lines are lost amidst the audience's caterwauling.

As the story begins, Ben Stiller, playing a character by the risible name of Greg Focker, is about to propose marriage to Jack's oldest daughter, Pam (Teri Polo). Surprisingly, this key part of the eldest daughter is the only underwritten one, although Polo does a credible job with it. Greg switches plans when he learns that her old-fashioned Dad likes to have his permission asked first, so it's off to meet the parents in order for him to pop the question to her dad.

The first impression of Jack is likely to be that he's a gracious host and a real teddy bear. Soon, however, it becomes obvious that he is a know-it-all and an absolute control freak, who runs his household with military precision. To say that he and Greg don't hit off would be a colossal understatement. They can't even discuss pets without Jack's taking offense. Jack, being a (trained) cat person, can't understand Greg's preferences for dogs. "Cats make you work for their affection," Jack informs Greg with disdain. "They don't sell out like dogs do."

James Herzfeld and John Hamburg's script gets as much or more mileage from the physical comedy than the dialog, but the film never dissolves into slapstick. Simple scenes that you've seen a hundred times before, like two guys drag-racing their cars through city streets, are made fresh. Through a combination of De Niro and Stiller's eye contact and the way they make the cars screech to a halt at each red light, the episode feels like you've never seen it before.

Once in the parent's house, Greg has such an awful time that he appears about ready to commit suicide. Jack's a tough task-master who explains to Greg, with hilarious euphemisms, that there will be no premarital sex permitted while he's staying with them. Jack's wife is played sweetly by Blythe Danner. "Under my roof, it's my way or the Long Island Expressway!" Jack informs Greg.

In one of many funny subplots, Jack turns out to have an intriguing past. A 34-year veteran of the CIA, he was responsible for interrogating suspected double agents. With the aid of an antique lie detector machine, he puts the screws on poor Greg. Jack is not the sort that you'd want to mess with. "If I find you are trying to corrupt my first born, I will bring you down!" Jack tells Greg in no uncertain terms. "I will bring you down to Chinatown!"

The occasion for the big visit to the parents is the wedding of Pam's sister, Debbie (Nicole DeHuff), to a hot-shot doctor. Greg, in contrast, is "just" a male nurse, an occupation that earns him no small amount of grief from Jack and others. Kevin Rawley (Owen Wilson), Pam's filthy rich ex-fiancé, comes to the wedding as well, much to Greg's consternation. Kevin and Pam, a pair of golden gods, look like they're still an item. The dark-haired Greg clearly looks like the odd man out.

Perhaps the reason that MEET THE PARENTS is so eminently likeable is that it is such a good-spirited comedy. And at its core, it is a truly sweet romance. One thing is certain, its conclusion contains one of the most unusual marriage proposals that you are ever likely to see.

MEET THE PARENTS runs 1:48. It is rated PG-13 for sexual content, drug references and language and would be acceptable for kids around 11 and up.

Most of the movie's comedy did not work for my son, Jeffrey, age 11, who gave the film just **. He said that he found the jokes old and repetitive. He thought the parents were too weird, and he didn't find any characters to like.

Copyright © 2000 Steve Rhodes

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