Sign up for our free newsletter

Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.

Forget Urban Legends: Final Cut. And that overhyped devil-in-a-blue-nightgown rerelease. I have seen hell, and its truest cinematic portrayal can be found not in these slash-and-spew horror flicks but in Jay Roach’s comedy Meet the Parents. It’s the hell of anyone who’s ever had a joke fall flat. Or who’s walked into a roomful of strangers and felt as if he had just landed on Mars. Or who’s desperately wanted to say to people whom he’s trying to impress that he really is charming and intelligent and not a freak who, cracking under the pressure of making dinner conversation, will say he’d once milked a cat on his Detroit farm. Meet Greg “You Can Milk Anything With Nipples” Focker, my hero. Greg (Ben Stiller) is about to propose to his girlfriend, Pam (Teri Polo), when he learns of both her sister’s engagement and the importance of securing her father’s approval. Seeing an opportunity to do things properly, Greg holds off on the proposal and instead waits to impress Pam’s family at the upcoming wedding festivities, when the couple will be staying with Pam’s parents, Dina and Jack (Blythe Danner and Robert De Niro). Shortly after Greg and Pam arrive at her idyllic suburban childhood home, Greg’s city-boy suavity is quashed by Jack’s polite but disarming interrogations. A short list of Greg’s faults: He’s a nurse (“Not many men in your profession, huh?”), he hates cats (Jack on dogs: “Emotionally shallow animals….You need that reassurance?”), and he has that unfortunate last name (“How do you pronounce your last name, Greg?” Dina delicately asks). Indeed, it’s pronounced just as it’s spelled, and the running joke only gets more effective as Greg’s confidence diminishes and Jack zeroes in for the kill with accusatory questions like “Are you a pothead, Focker?” And for those less amused than I am by the brilliance of well-placed profanity, there are plenty of loftier laughs, thanks to Stiller’s trademark sarcasm and De Niro’s comedic take on his usual tough-guy persona. If you’ve ever had to respond to such a no-win challenge as “I’ve got nipples; can you milk me?” Meet the Parents is for you. —Tricia Olszewski