On the verge of proposing to his lovely girlfriend Pam, Greg Focker is faced with one final hurdle: meeting her parents. And when it transpires that daddy, Jack Byrnes, is a retired CIA spycatcher masquerading as a florist, the weekend from hell commences.
Great comedy is built around shared recognition. No matter how ludicrous the antics on screen become, there's something in there that really makes you itch because you've been there too. And there isn't a hopeful romantic the world over who hasn't experienced the trauma of meeting the parents. About this universal premise has been woven one of the year's most deliciously funny movies.
Stiller is a master of the put-upon dweeb, and lumbered with the surname Focker (now that's funny writing!) and the less-than-manly vocation of nursing, he might as well have 'victim' tattooed on his forehead. And there's nothing Jack hates more than weakness.
De Niro's beautifully-controlled performance as a militaristic control freak out to terrify all potential suitors is the comic heart of the movie. Melding the obvious self-parody of Analyse This (1999) with the intuitive sense of reality he brings to his straight roles, his delivery is lethal. Who better than the former Raging Bull (1980) to stare balefully at the pathetic Greg, as he hooks him up to an antique polygraph machine he just happens to keep in his office?
Roach, having already proven himself as one of Hollywood's keenest comedy directors with the Austin Powers movies, handles it all with the steady fervour of great farce. Jokes build from a distance, with hints of catastrophe waiting to happen (a sewage tank, Jack's mother's ashes, flammable garden ornaments), and when the punchlines explode, they lift the seemingly predictable outcome to torturous unforeseen extremes. Quite literally the world collapses around Greg as he flounders to make good on the agony he's unwittingly wrought. And even as events resolve themselves in a rather flat ælove matters' patter, there is still a gem of a last laugh to finish it all off.
With current comedy obsessed with oh-so-clever ironic gestures and tricksy pastiche, Meet The Parents' dedication to consistent, straightforward belly laughs is totally refreshing.
Already a smash hit Stateside, this is a crowdpleaser in every sense - and although the hysteria inevitably dissipates as matters finally resolve. it will undoubtedly hit paydirt here too.