In 1976, Bobby De Niro was fired from Bogart Slept Here directed by Mike Nichols. Today comedian De Niro who brings in the laughs in The Little Fockers proves he is fireproof.
In 1976, Bobby and I had been hanging out as we lived on the same floor in the Chateau Marmont.
Suddenly one day he checked out and I read in the trades that he had been replaced in Bogart Slept Here by Richard Dreyfuss because screenwriter Neil Simon took the film in a more comical direction. Simon renamed the film The Goodbye Girl.
Simon underestimated De Niro's funny bone and acting prowess. Even though prior to this incident
De Niro had won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in The Godfather and he would go on to be nominated later in 1976 for an Oscar for his role in Taxi Driver, his ability to do comedy had been questioned.
Today De Niro carries The Little Fockers like a mack truck in a snow storm. While the script is moderately funny, it is laden with a crudeness that only fine actors can finesse. The ensemble cast works well together yet one longs for more of Barbra Streisand and Dustin Hoffman, but the screenwriters lean on De Niro. The script is loaded with scatological references and sexual jokes that would not be comical if they were not acted by the stellar cast of Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Ben Stiller, Harvey Keitel, Blythe Danner, Jessica Alba, Owen Wilson, Teri Polo. A word like manopause is repeated and does not get a second laugh and barely earns the first one, but all is forgiven just to see De Niro's slowly building rage that is so funny that the mediocre writing can not take away from the audience's pleasure. Lines that try hard to amuse like -- Are You Prepared to be the Godfocker, Pamcake as a term of endearment for Pam, fockerized, -- all could destroy a film if not directed with Paul Weitz's skill and acted brilliantly by De Niro who never breaks character or goes intentionally for laughs.
The sincere pain that he is suffering due to having a son-in-law whom he suspects to be cheating on his own daughter is always played from the heart while we, the audience, realize he is being paranoid. We know Ben Stiller has been caught in a compromising situation. The film's credit's end shrewdly with takes of De Niro pondering the sincerity of his son-in-law Stiller. A slow build of De Niro's genuine anger is once more hilarious as one can see the seeds for a sequel in his flexing jaw line as he studies with spying eyes film of a lying Ben Stiller.
"Ya talkin' to me?" One can imagine De Niro saying.
"Yes, Bobby, I'm talkin' to you."
Bring on another sequel.