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Little Fockers Review: Take With Lots Of Eggnog

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The Short: If - and only if - you need a laugh.

Some traditions -- think caroling and eggnog -- are time honored Christmas staples, whose brutal mediocrity (or worse) are accepted, even embraced, in the generous spirit of the holiday. At any other point of the year, we might shrug our shoulders, appreciate the modest enjoyment it offers at that very moment, and quickly move on. But attach to it the pleasant sentimentality of Christmas, and we smile and hold it dear.

Family Christmas comedies benefit more than most from that yule tide generosity. To wit: this time of year, we just accept that there are channels that play on constant loop 1998's 'Jack Frost,' in which a dead Michael Keaton is reincarnated as a mysterious snowman. A select few films, though, break that mold, and included in that group of legitimately funny exceptions is 2000's 'Meet the Parents.'

Expertly exploiting and hilariously exploding one of society's worst fears - a terror of a father-in-law - Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) is the put-upon good guy, messing up in every epic way possible as he nervously tries to please his girlfriend's insane ex-CIA agent father, Jack (Robert DeNiro). In that film, there are moments in which the audience actually wants to close its eyes, best to avoid the extreme discomfort that Stiller is put through.

With the formula thusly established, we were given 2005's 'Meet the Fockers,' a Hannukah present of lampooning Stiller's equally zany on-screen parents, Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand. Perhaps it wasn't as good, but it was a worthy entry to the canon. And with the film taking the next step of seeing the couple married, obviously, kids were on the way.

Which brings us to 'Little Fockers.' Greg and Pam Focker now have five year old twins, a stable life in Chicago, and in-laws that live far enough away that they don't bother them much. Greg has even won over Jack, who anoints him the the heir to the family's throne. But, of course, things can't stay happy and normal.

Both sets of grandparents descend upon Chicago for the twins' fifth birthday party, and immediately, Jack begins his suspicions of Greg anew. The beautiful Andi Garcia's (Jessica Alba) emergence as Greg's peppy co-worker doesn't help either (and yes, they use the name Andi Garcia as a gag - one too many times).

You can guess what happens from here: mishearing and misunderstandings; spying and secrecy; simmering tension; and, of course, boners. The old standbys. Except that this time, the cringes don't make you squeeze your eyes so tight, the angry eyes between Greg and Jack don't glare with the same relatable intensity, and Jack's horrifying intimidation from the first film isn't quite there. Partly, that's by design - Jack suffers from heart problems in this film - but it takes the stakes far lower.

Of course, there are laughs. Greg can still get himself in awkward situations, Jack is still a hard ass, and the addition of kids adds some fresh situations (vomit and private school interviews are highlights). Kevin (Owen Wilson), Pam's old flame, is back and, well, way more insane than ever - there is a unitard prominently involved.

But, still, the gut punches of the first and (to a somewhat smaller degree) second films aren't quite there. Greg is still the good guy, so to speak, but Jack is a bit more sympathetic, and the screw ups aren't quite so bad (for example, no cat is peeing in Jack's mother's ashes, and no hand-made gazebo is set ablaze in a toilet water-filled backyard). To sum it up, the movie seems more like a series of unpleasant events, not a worst nightmare.

We've grown fond of the characters, which saves the film a bit - on its own, without the backstory, it'd be much less effective. As part of the canon, it's passable, but not a timeless classic. But we embrace it for its message of family coming together, and its ultimate feel-good spirit will win it more fans in this soft-hearted season than it might if it was, say, a summer release. If anything, it's at least a relatively enjoyable experience that you can palate for a short time. Think of it as going down easy in small doses, like eggnog.