Meet The Parents

on October 06, 2000 by Michael Tunison
   Before the leading man can marry the love of his life, he must face the potential father-in-law from hell. It would be hard to come up with a more routine concept for a mainstream comedy. And yet "Meet the Parents" succeeds it its modest, sweet-hearted way, making up for its lack of originality with polished comic craftsmanship and especially the presence of the invaluable Ben Stiller ("There's Something About Mary") as the much-put-upon hero.

   Stiller's Greg, a male nurse bearing the unfortunate surname "Focker" (any guess what the film's most-used running joke will be?), is dying to pop the question to his teacher girlfriend Pam (Teri Polo from TV's "Felicity"), but first he hopes to win over her all-American father (Robert De Niro) and mother ("The Prince of Tides'" Blythe Danner). Predictably enough, a weekend trip to the parents' home for the wedding of Pam's sister quickly disintegrates into a chaos of lost luggage, awkward sleeping arrangements and jealousy over a fantastically successful old flame ("Shanghai Noon's" Owen Wilson). Worst of all, De Niro's character turns out to be a certifiably paranoid ex-CIA spy-catcher convinced his daughter's suitor is a degenerate drug fiend.

   Director Jay Roach ("Austin Powers") provides a solid enough platform for Stiller's trademark shtick: writhing in discomfort as he's cornered in one painfully awkward social situation after another. It's telling that some of the best bits aren't essential to the plot, such as when Greg contends with a set of hilariously zealous airline employees. As usual, De Niro is a rock-solid comic foil, focusing his legendary intensity on character rather than the gags. Consistently more fun than it has any right to be, "Meet the Parents" is an example of how sometimes it really is all about casting the right couple of stars. Starring Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, Blythe Danner, Teri Polo and Owen Wilson. Directed by Jay Roach. Written by Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg. Produced by Nancy Tenenbaum, Jane Rosenthal, Robert De Niro and Jay Roach. A Universal release. Rated PG-13 for sexual content, drug references and language. Running time: 107 min

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