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When a film buff thinks of Robert De Niro, images of Travis Bickle standing in front of a mirror saying, You talkiní to me? instantly pop up. Memories of young Vito Corleone, stalking Fanutti in one of THE GODFATHER, PART II most memorable and brilliantly played out scenes. Jake LaMotta in RAGING BULL as all the demons and ghosts from his past come back to haunt him as he stands in a dark prison cell, his glory long since behind him. De Niro is one of the greatest actors of all time; there is no question about it. So my hat goes off to him for venturing into the genre of comedy, and especially slapstick comedy, which actors of his status usually donít do. But like ANALYZE THIS two years back, De Niro has proven he can deliver the punch line to a tee.

MEET THE PARENTS focuses around Greg Focker (Ben Stiller), who is madly in love with beautiful childcare worker Pam Byrnes (Teri Polo). Both have been going for about ten months, Greg is happily employed as a nurse and as time passes, their love grows deeper. So whatís the next step? Marriage of course, and Greg plans an elaborate proposal for Pam. But she has dropped an unexpected bombshell on him before he has the chance to pop the question. Pamís sister is also getting married in two weeks, but only because they got the permission of Pamís father. Greg bides his time to ask Pam, and both fly to her fathers place for the wedding, in which Greg yearns to make a good impression by buying a rare flower, being informed that Pamís father was a flouriest before he retired. He meets Pamís parents, Jack (De Niro), and doting mother Dina (Blythe Danner). But Gregís good intentions to gain Jackís friendship go up in smokes (quite literally in one scene). Everything that can go wrong does, as one disaster follows another and at the center of the hurricane lye poor Greg. From smashing a volleyball into Pamís sistersí face (played by Nicole Dehuff), to making it appear that he is a pothead, Greg is bad luck running around on two legs. And things definitely donít improve when he discovers that Jack was once in the CIA, and is basically a human lie detector. Jack is a hard man to please. His overprotective love for his daughter is his strongest reason to dislike the boy from the start. But of course he really didnít need a reason to be unimpressed, especially after the cremated remains of his beloved mother is destroyed by accident. Gregís hopes for getting approval from Jack to propose to his daughter are dimming with each passing second.

De Niro and Stiller have perfect comic timing, and the vast difference in acting ability is never an issue. Both certainly benefit from the fact that the movie isnít about gross out humor. Though not all the situations have a punch to them, both actors are able to lift up the weaker scenes. De Niro is perfect in the role and plays it cool. He stands around like a judge, watching as poor Stiller bundles his way through the weekend. He observes and he probes into Stiller, and the results are usually hilarious (the lie detector scene was a riot). De Niro can do comedy well, when given the right material. Itís a role that doesnít require much, and probably would be viewed upon as pedestrian by such a man. But I think De Niro is having fun with the role and enjoys playing the straight man whose presence tortures to light headed nitwit with the heart of gold (itís usually the other way around, as the straight man usually has to be humiliated at the expense of another). Stiller is also great in the role and holds his own against De Niro. Though his shtick gets a little tiring towards the end (unlike De Niro, who remains fresh throughout), Stiller knows how to deliver the moments. His neurotic, high-strung nerd is fun to watch and Stiller fits into the role nicely.

But the film has its problems, and that is the movie never goes beyond its formula. Though the story is basically about one event, it could have expanded its story a little more and could have ditched a few dramatic confrontations and a rather silly and unfunny ending. There really isnít that much connection or chemistry between the two lovebirds, which is a distraction because that is why Stiller is put into such an uncomfortable situation. And Danner could have used a little more screen time (it is MEET THE PARENTS, not MEET THE DAD). But the laughs are still there and everyone is having a good time. One special note must be made to Owen Wilson as Pamís former love. A brief appearance, but a terrific one.

There is talks of a sequel titled MEET THE FOCKERS, in which one family meets the other. Though I doubt the title will be approved, I think there is still potential for another movie. And as De Niro says in the movie, perhaps weíll see little Fockers running around this time out.

My Grade: B