I actually liked Meet the Parents and The Fockers. By Little Fockers, it’s even worn off on my forgiving nature. Little Fockers is a clear example of a trilogy running out of steam and repeating itself in part three. At least it’s not an example of the superior second part. That would make Meet the Fockers this trilogy’s Empire Strikes Back.

Greg and Pam Focker (Ben Stiller and Teri Polo) are planning their twins’ fifth birthday party. That’s all the excuse you need for the in-laws to visit, but they go through a list of tasks Greg has to accomplish in his busy suburban life. Drug rep Andi Garcia (Jessica Alba) hires Greg to be the spokesperson for the erectile dysfunction drug Sustengo (get it?) and he needs the money to pay for the kids’ fancy school, Early Human School.

The kooky in-laws are all introduced with annoying schtick. Jack Byrnes (Robert DeNiro) defibrillates himself during a heart attack. Roz Focker (Barbra Streisand) has her own TV show where she talks about musical condoms. Bernie Focker (Dustin Hoffman) is off in Spain mastering flamenco dancing. Roz actually calls Bernie’s late life crisis “MANopause,” and Greg repeats it in case it’s funnier the second time.

The whole movie is a lot of setup for a dumb payoff. An extended dinner table scene goes through an explanation of the Byrnes family tree, Greg cooking turkey, his son Henry’s obsession with lizards, and Greg’s lame attempt at turkey carving, all to pay off with Greg cutting his finger and spraying blood on Jack. A drawn out argument with a construction crew in the backyard leads to Greg trying to move a truck on is own and accidentally dumping a load of sand onto Jack. The crew leader is played by Harvey Keitel, but it’s not the long-awaited Mean Streets reunion you were waiting for.

Pam gets the flu on the day she has to meet the principal of the Early Human School. She actually says, “Honey, what am I going to do?” That’s a sitcom plot beneath “Everybody Loves Raymond.” It’s all so Jack and Greg can go meet Prudence (Laura Dern) together and get mistaken as a couple. At least Prudence sees through homophobia humor. The tables are turned on Jack when he has a five hour erection and Greg has to give him a shot in the dick. It’s come to this, DeNiro as the bitch in a Something About Mary scene.

The film climaxes in a blatant fistfight between Jack and Greg, which may be the confrontation Fockerphiles have been waiting for. The film misses the best opportunity for a payoff when Greg speaks for Sustengo. We hear that he referenced Jack’s lie detector test and his “I’m watching you” schtick. We should see that. That would pay off the entire series. Instead they save it for a gag in the end credits. Make the movie funny before you work on the credits. Plus, there’s a YouTube remix joke that still would have played in the credits if they’d put the actual speech in the movie.

Greg acts more pathetic around his kids than he does around other grown-ups. By the time Jack actually suggests Pam leave Greg for Kevin (Owen Wilson), it’s not cute anymore. Maybe when they were only engaged he was being overprotective, but now he’s talking about breaking up a family. At least this Fockers is only around 95 minutes so there’s less of it.