As if the sight of Robert De Niro with a raging hard-on poking through his pajamas isn’t sad enough, the creators of Little Fockers have to go and make it worse. It’s not just that they follow it with a scene of Ben Stiller stabbing him in the penis with a shot of adrenaline to help bring down his medically assisted boner—it’s that they reminded us earlier that this old man participating in a lame erectile-dysfunction joke once played a young Vito Corleone. Like every other gag in this third installment of the Meet the Parents series, the Godfather references are uncomfortably shoehorned in—as retired CIA agent Jack Byrnes, De Niro asks son-in-law Greg Focker (Stiller) if he’s prepared to take over as family patriarch and become “the God-Focker”—but they’re enough to highlight just how abysmal De Niro’s late-career work has been. He doesn’t need to deliver another canonical performance at this point, but c’mon: dick jokes? Really?
It’s not just De Niro. Appropriately for a movie with a dumbass near-pun for a title (which doesn’t even make sense—the little fuckers in question are tangential to the plot), nobody in Little Fockers escapes with their dignity intact. It’s a parade of shame from actors willing to debase themselves for a franchise that’s proven inexplicably popular. All this installment has going for it is a few brief minutes of Jessica Alba in her underwear. Otherwise, it’s a lazily written cash grab that offers at least one embarrassing moment for everyone involved: Alba gets drunk, strips down and swan-dives into a mud pit; Laura Dern pulls a kid’s finger and he farts; Owen Wilson pole-dances. Stiller spends the entire film looking like he can’t wait for it to end—and that’s before his son projectile-vomits in his face.
If you’ve seen either of the other two movies, it’s not a spoiler to say that the story here involves a series of misunderstandings that lead Jack to distrust Greg before finally accepting him again. This time, the comedy of errors climaxes in a fistfight between De Niro and Stiller. Unfortunately, they don’t kill each other, leaving the door open for a fourth film that’ll probably be called something like Mother Fockers, Focker in the Rear or, if the producers want to be honest, Thanks for the Money, You Dumb Shits. PG-13.