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Uh, mom and dad, I want you to meet ...

Prepare to laugh in 'Meet the Parents'

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In this story:

Hellish three days

Funny folks in a comic cast


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(CNN) -- "Meet the Parents" is one of the best comedies of this -- or any other -- year. From the opening credits, when Randy Newman croons, "Show me a man who's gentle and kind, and I'll show you a loser," to the high-octane climax, this film is wonderfully funny.

Starring Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller, Blythe Danner, big-screen newcomer Teri Polo and Owen Wilson, this film is a rich comic stew that will leave you well satisfied, yet begging for more. And, yes, the ending leaves the door wide open for an almost-guaranteed sequel. Most people can relate to the nerve-racking trial by fire of meeting their future in-laws for the first time. Co-writers Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg (with an uncredited assist from "Election's" (1999) Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor) have captured all the inherent angst and humorous possibilities of that situation in a well-crafted, beautifully written script that director Jay Roach ( both "Austin Powers" movies) has effectively transferred to the screen.

Greg Focker (Stiller) not only has an unfortunate last name. He's also thoroughly urban, a male working in the female-dominated field of nursing, and he's Jewish. All this leaves him at a giant disadvantage when he meets the parents of the woman he wants to marry.

Enter Pam Byrnes, (Polo) whose WASP-y family lives in a bucolic wonderland in upstate New York. Her father Jack (De Niro) is an alpha male who worked in the macho world of international espionage (retired CIA), and all that her family knows about the Jewish religion is that they go to "church" on Saturdays instead of Sundays.

Hellish three days

Greg is on the verge of popping the big question when Pam's sister Debbie (Nicole DeHuff) gets engaged. That's how he gets clued in to the fact that the only way to win the hand of one of Papa Byrnes' daughters is to ask him first. Otherwise, Greg doesn't stand a chance in hell of the old man walking one of his little girls down the aisle, and into waiting arms of the man taking his baby away.

But hell is exactly where Greg finds himself during the three-day weekend he and Pam spend at her family's home, where the clan has gathered for Debbie's wedding. His plan is to win the favor of Pam's father and mother (Danner), ask permission to marry her, and live happily ever after.

Boy, is he wrong!

Greg is toast from the second he meets Pam's father. Imagine Robert "You talkin' to me?" De Niro staring you down from the front porch of his perfectly groomed home while you drown in flop sweat, and you begin to see the picture.

Hoping to impress, Greg tells a series of small white lies, unaware that Jack is a former CIA expert in interrogating suspected double agents. Greg traps himself in one falsehood after another, all the time being compared to Pam's perfect former boyfriend, Kevin (Wilson). Hilarious situations -- including a scene where Jack gives Greg a lie-detector test -- are the result of the mind games played between the hapless suitor and the overprotective father.

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Funny folks in a comic cast

Stiller is absolute perfection at mixing earnestness with anxiety, and he gets huge mileage out of just one panicked look. The chemistry between Stiller and De Niro is screen magic, too.

De Niro has been looking for another comedy since the huge success of last year's "Analyze This," and he struck gold with this project. Again, he has proven that he's not only one of the world's greatest dramatic actors, but is also blessed with superb comic timing.

Stiller can instantly convey panic; De Niro does the same for blood-curdling intimidation. There is a scene featuring De Niro and Stiller at the family's dining table that is worth the price of admission all by itself.

Danner excels as the loving mother who is blind to most of the chaos enveloping her family as the battle between Jack and Greg reaches a fevered pitch. Wilson ("Shanghai Noon," 2000) is great as the all-too-too-perfect former boyfriend.

"Meet the Parents" is in the same league as "As Good As It Gets" (1997), which brought Oscars to Helen Hunt and Jack Nicholson, though this comedy is a little more slapstick and lacks the pathos of that award-winning film.

Hopefully the Academy will also recognize this wonderful movie, something it rarely does when it comes to comedies.

"Meet the Parents" opens nationwide on Friday. Rated PG-13. 108 minutes.



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