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Meet the Parents Reviews

A comedy of escalating discomfort in which a hapless schmuck digs himself into a bottomless pit by trying to impress his girlfriend's family. Male nurse Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) wants to pop the question to girlfriend Pam Byrnes (Teri Polo). But she's daddy's little girl, and daddy (Robert De Niro), a retired horticulturist, has some old-fashioned ideas about manners and manhood. So Pam and Greg make a weekend pilgrimage to the Byrne homestead in Waspy Oyster Bay, Long Island; the occasion is the wedding of Pam's younger sister. Greg gets off on the wrong foot with Mr. Byrnes and never recovers: His carefully chosen gift, a rare orchid bulb, falls flat. A joke about "Puff, the Magic Dragon" convinces Byrnes that Greg is a dope fiend, and the cork from Greg's conciliatory bottle of champagne nails the ornamental urn containing the ashes of Grandma Byrnes, which wind up being defiled on the dining-room floor by the family cat. Little white lies mushroom into ghastly whoppers. And Pam lets Greg in on a family secret: Her dad was never a horticulturist — he was a CIA psychological profiler. Imagine: Every prospective father-in-law seems like a human lie detector, but Mr. Byrnes is the real thing. And so the weekend goes, from bad to worse to mortifying. On the plus side, the gross-out factor is surprisingly low, and the combination of Stiller and De Niro is inspired: No father could be more formidable, no prospective son-in-law better equipped to squirm. But the movie's odd mix of humor consists of disconcerting, organic laughs rooted in Greg's exaggerated but recognizable situation vs. frat-boy yocks at the expense of his last name and profession. If only there were more of the inspired nuttiness that places the hiply Jewish Greg in competition with Pam's old flame (Owen Wilson) — who took up woodworking because Jesus was a carpenter — and less feline potty humor.