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Review: Formulaic 'Fockers' fitfully funny

Sequel has moments, but a comedown from original

By Paul Clinton

Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand are a free-spirited '60s couple in "Meet the Fockers."
Robert De Niro
Barbra Streisand
Dustin Hoffman

(CNN) -- Unlike movies involving razor-toothed monsters in outer space or adorable hobbits searching for magical rings, comedies -- romantic or otherwise -- usually don't make great sequels.

Laughter is often based on the unexpected, and when you try to return to a comedic premise the second time around it's very hard to maintain that feeling of the unknown.

Put another way, "Dying is easy, comedy is hard."

"Meet the Fockers," the sequel to the highly successful "Meet the Parents," is a case in point. Not that it doesn't have its moments -- it does, and you will find yourself laughing out loud here and there. But the freshness of the original is lacking.

You can't argue with the talent involved. Ben Stiller is back as the overly earnest Gaylord "Greg" Focker, with both Robert De Niro and Blythe Danner once again playing Jack and Dina Byrnes, his in-laws to be. Teri Polo is back in place as his fiancée Pam.

Then add Barbra Streisand -- in her first big-screen appearance in eight years -- and Dustin Hoffman as Gaylord's parents Bernie and Roz Focker and you have enough megawatt star power to light up the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.

Also back on board are director Jay Roach and screenwriters Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg.

Both films are based on an old and sturdy premise: Meeting the future in-laws and/or introducing those in-laws to each other for the first time, a concept full of comedic potential. The last movie also got a lot of mileage out of Gaylord's last name and its resemblance to a word unmentionable in movie reviews.

For those who missed the original, the Byrnes are a conservative couple from tony Oyster Bay, Long Island, and their daughter Pam is the apple of their eye. De Niro's Jack, a former CIA operative, is a stern and highly suspicious patriarch. His wife is a stay-at-home mom whose life revolves around her family.

And then there's their daughter's fiancé, Gaylord, a Jewish man -- who is a nurse and not a doctor -- trying to instill himself into this tight WASP-y family.

Now it's time to introduce Gaylord's family to the Byrnes. His mother and father are -- of course -- polar opposites to the upper-class Byrnes clan. Bernie Focker is a stay-at-home hippie-dippy guy; Roz Focker is a free-wheeling sex therapist to senior citizens.

And it's here where the movie starts to smell familiar.

Families clash in "Meet the Fockers," starring (L-R) Blythe Danner, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Teri Polo and Robert De Niro.

"Meet the Fockers" contains the exact same comedic beats that were at the heart of "Meet the Parents." There are plenty of jokes based on the name Focker; there is an amusing dinner scene (once again involving a human body part); there is an embarrassing family sporting event -- this time touch football, rather than water volleyball -- and there is plenty of high-tech spying by Jack using his CIA connections.

Once again Gaylord makes every mistake in the book trying to please everyone. Once again every attempt blows up in his face. Even Jinx the cat is back. This time he makes mincemeat out of the Fockers' dog, Moses.

Every joke has an obvious set-up and you can see them coming a mile away. However, the talents involved -- and they are formidable -- do manage to induce a chuckle or two.

This is the first time Hoffman and Streisand have worked together. They make a wonderful team, but it's too bad the material isn't fresher and more worth their time and yours.

"Meet the Fockers" isn't a horrible movie. It's just not particularly great, and whether you leave your comfortable couch to check out this film all depends on just how much you like the actors involved and just how far you're willing to go for a few mild laughs.

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