Back in 2000, Meet the Parents earned big bucks at the box office by pitting Ben Stiller’s patented tightly-wound schlub persona against Robert De Niro’s potentially homicidal tough-guy persona. See, the former persona wanted to propose to the daughter of the latter persona, and hence hilarity ensued. While Meet the Parents  was highly enjoyable, the 2004 sequel Meet the Fockers arguably improved upon the formula, as De Niro’s outlandish suspicions and sabotage at long last met their match in the face of Stiller’s freewheeling hippie parents. The next logical step in the series was to introduce children into the equation, and 2010’s Little Fockers  complies with this logic (why not Meet the Little Fockers, though?). Despite the change in director (Paul Weitz replaced Jay Roach) and the mostly negative reviews, Little Fockers is far more entertaining and amusing than a second sequel has any right to be. When it comes to harmless family entertainment, you could do far worse than this.

Many years have passed in the Focker household. Little Fockers finds male nurse Gaylord “Greg” Focker (Stiller) and his wife Pam (Polo) raising twins Samantha (Tahan) and Henry (Baiocchi) in a suburb of Chicago. Facing mounting bills and about to move into a new house, Greg agrees to shill an erectile-dysfunction drug for attractive pharmaceutical rep Andi Garcia (Alba). At the start of the film, the twins’ birthday is fast approaching, meaning that grandparents and friends will soon be arriving in Chicago. The birthday is complicated by two factors, however. Principally, that Pam’s father Jack (De Niro) has a minor heart attack and deems it necessary to select a patriarch to lead the family’s next generation, and decides to hand the role to Greg. In order for Greg to attain this title, however, Jack has to consider him worthy, which leads to meddling, spying and background checks. On top of this, Pam’s insufferable ex-boyfriend Kevin (Wilson) has dropped in for a visit.

Interestingly, despite the title implying that the focus has been shifted to the younger Focker generation, Little Fockers is still predominantly concerned with the adult cast. Nonetheless, while the kids do not receive a great deal of screen-time, they still have a fairly substantial bearing on the story (the birthday party does set the plot in motion). However, there’s not much of a story here anyway; Little Fockers is a lot of vignettes connected by a lazy script. The random plot threads lurking within – such as the attempt to get the twins into a distinguished school, the troubles with the builders working on Greg and Pam’s new house, and the attempts to market the erectile-dysfunction medication – do not lead to payoffs, as they merely hit brick walls and are never brought up again (a lot of re-writing and re-editing occurred during post-production, so perhaps the resolutions of these plotlines were left on the cutting room floor). At least Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers had their respective plot strands resolved. Speaking of the previous movies, little mention is made of characters such as Denny and Little Jack, which is disappointing.

Yet, while plot and story are not a strong suit in the case of Little Fockers and while Jack being mistrustful of Greg is highly reminiscent of the previous movies, this second sequel nonetheless delivers its fair share of belly laughs (including a very amusing Jaws homage). After a slow start, the movie eventually settles into an amiable groove and holds steady; remaining highly entertaining until the very end. Paul Weitz afforded the film a gloriously brisk pace, though anyone expecting start-to-finish laughter will most likely walk away disappointed. In particular, there are not enough scenes taking advantage of the family dynamic. Despite John Hamburg having a hand in the scripting (he co-wrote Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers), there are a few sections which are devoid of genuine laughs. However, Little Fockers at least never grows excruciating in between the belly laughs – there’s a great deal of energy. This is more than what can be said for a lot of other comedy duds which were unleashed upon the world in 2010, such as Grown-Ups and Vampires Suck.

Unsurprisingly, Stiller and De Niro kept doing their usual shtick here. Stiller neither stands out nor underwhelms, while De Niro gets a fair amount of laughs. For all of De Niro’s attempts at self-parody, his character of Jack Byrnes remains vividly-rendered. And De Niro has a scene in which he fights with a role played by Harvey Keitel. It’s doubtful this is the old-age reunion that De Niro and Keitel imagined while working together on Taxi Driver back in the ’70s. Also in the cast is Owen Wilson, who has more screen-time than ever as Kevin. Wilson leaned on his usual shtick here, and the result is a serviceable but unremarkable performance. Despite her role amounting to a glorified cameo, Blythe Danner is her usual endearing self as Dina Byrnes, while Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand are often amusing but underused. Hoffman is especially absent – he did not take part in principal photography; instead, he came back for reshoots, and consequently plays no real part in the story (not that there’s much of a story, mind you). Delivering more effectively in the laughs department are Jessica Alba and Laura Dern.

There’s not a great deal else which can be said about Little Fockers. It is what it is – comfort food for the masses; an unthreatening, unremarkable comedy. If you find this movie hilarious, you’ll love it. If this type of humour does not appeal to you, you’ll hate it. Admittedly, Little Fockers is sillier than its predecessors and not as funny as its predecessors (and, frankly, not funny enough), but it’s difficult to imagine fans of the franchise walking away bitterly disappointed. With an A-list cast like this pulling off exuberant personalities, this is a predictable but not entirely unwelcome addition to the Focker family.