24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Ben Stiller

'Little Fockers' tries to overcome the hat-trick curse

November 11, 2010 |  1:08 pm

When it comes to digs or jokes about "Little Fockers," the fish pretty much shoot themselves in a barrel. The third movie in a franchise that began with a funny first film ("Meet the Parents") and delivered a reasonably amusing second installment ("Meet the Fockers") now may be straining the premise.

Focker Long before the below trailer hit the Web yesterday, there had been plenty of questions. The franchise has kept its stars but lost its director/seer in Jay Roach (he went off to make "Dinner for Schmucks"), leaving it in the less accomplished hands of Paul Weitz ("In Good Company"). The release date was pushed back from the summer. And there were the reports of reshoots that had "Meet the Fockers" costar Dustin Hoffman rushed into the movie at the last moment.

  Besides, didn't a thousand TV shows already tell us what we needed to know about long-running comedies that add kids 10 years in?

The trailer doesn't offer much more to be encouraged about. There's the problem of Ben Stiller's Gaylord Focker character seeming successful and more confident here, living in a yuppie-ish home, with little of his jittery ingenue from the first two films. There's the fact that at least some of the action takes place around Thanksgiving, even though the movie comes out three days before Christmas (most holiday films usually do it the other way). And is that really a Cialis sight gag?

Third movies can rise both creatively and commercially, but it doesn't happen often; "Bourne Ultimatum" is the exception to the "Spider-Man 3" rule. Third comedies usually aren't even attempted. This PG-13 franchise also seems a bit of a tweener, when comedies seem to be polarizing as either raunchfests or clean family fun.

Then again, at least filmmakers got the "Little Fockers" title past the studio.

--Steven Zeitchik




Photo: 'Little Fockers' poster. Credit: Universal Pictures


'Mr. Popper's Penguins' could reshuffle its flock

April 29, 2010 |  6:44 pm

EXCLUSIVE: It looks like Noah Baumbach won't march with the penguins.

The director who examined adult problems through children's eyes in his breakout "The Squid and the Whale" had been in talks to direct the children's classic "Mr. Popper's Penguins." But he's fallen off and won't direct it after all, sources say. 

Baumb There had never been a formal deal between the parties, though Baumbach's disassociation raises the question of Ben Stiller's involvement in the Fox movie; the comic actor has also been in talks to come aboard (to star), in part because of Baumbach's interest. (The two collaborated on the recently released quirky dramedy "Greenberg").

"Mr. Popper's Penguins" is a 1938 novel aimed at the early-grade set about a house painter and his wife who come into possession of a dozen penguins but soon find themselves in over their heads with feeding and other responsibilities.

The decision that producers and Baumbach (who also explored animal-minded whimsy in "Fantastic Mr. Fox," which he wrote) go their separate ways was said to be related to creative differences, and we can understand why.

Bringing on an independent-minded auteur to direct a famous children's work is an interesting idea in theory -- we'd rather a studio hire someone with a strong point of view for a movie like "Penguins" than water it down to a generic family film -- but a checkered model in practice, something that Warner Bros. and Spike Jonze could tell you about from the "Where the Wild Things Are." We'll see what tonal direction Fox decides to take "Penguins."

--Steven Zeitchik

(Follow me on Twitter.)

Photo: Noah Baumbach. Credit: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Clicking on Green Links will take you to a third-party e-commerce site. These sites are not operated by the Los Angeles Times. The Times Editorial staff is not involved in any way with Green Links or with these third-party sites.

Is it us, or is Ben Stiller looking more like Al Pacino every day?

March 23, 2010 | 11:10 am

Stiller Pacino5

Photos: Ben Stiller, left, by Alberto Rodriguez / Getty Images; Al Pacino by Chris Pizzello / Associated Press

Ben Stiller could plan a heist, as 'Ocean's Eleven'-style movie could go from black to white

February 16, 2010 |  5:30 pm

"Trump Heist" is one of those films that could be a brilliant update or so much high-concept high jinks -- or maybe a little bit of both.

Stiller The film (which may eventually be called "Tower Heist" -- that pesky legal department) is about a group of con-men who devise a plan to swindle the residents of New York's upscale Trump Tower, where they also work. It's basically a black "Ocean's Eleven" (not our phrase -- that's how development people in Hollywood are talking about it), with stars like Chris Rock, Chris Tucker and Eddie Murphy all previously mentioned in connection with the film.

But now the project from Universal and frequent production collaborator Imagine could be getting a bit of an, um, face-lift: Ben Stiller is in talks to play the lead heist-meister, the role Murphy would have played. A new draft of the script will be written -- likely by a writer Stiller has worked with in the past whom he'll bring on for this film. Universal declined comment. [UPDATE: Sources say that the studio has brought on Noah Baumbach, the "Squid and the Whale" writer who directed Stiller in the upcoming "Greenberg," to do a little bit of work on the latest draft. Said draft was written by "Mrs. Doubtfire" writer Leslie Dixon, who also worked on Stiller's "The Heartbreak Kid."]

The project might have a different feel with Stiller in the lead role of what was a black-oriented comedy -- he's not exactly Eminem -- though with Murphy a crossover star in his own right, it may also not be that dramatic a switch. As for timing, well, the project has been through the paces -- director Brett Ratner has been talking about it for some time now -- but the filmmaker could now make it a priority.

"Heist" has brought on a who's who of Hollywood screenwriters over its development history --  including "Inside Man" writer Russell Gewirtz, Hollywood veteran Rawson Marshall Thurber, and, most notably, "Ocean's Eleven" writer Ted Griffin. (Thurber has a Stiller connection, too, writing and directing "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story," which saw Stiller play the villain White Goodman).

Hollywood has a history of giving movies with white stars a black treatment; Murphy was previously part of one such effort with "The Nutty Professor" franchise. This one puts an extra quarter-turn on the idea -- it's a white movie re-imagined as a black movie that may now be reconfigured with a white lead.

There are some business implications, too, as Universal is throwing in lately with Stiller. Although his production company Red Hour is now on the Fox lot, the actor is reprising his Gaylord Focker role for the studio's "Little Fockers" next holiday season and also takes a more dramatic turn as the lead character in "Greenberg," a Noah Baumbach film that Universal specialty division Focus Features will release next month. Stiller has done action in films only sporadically (in "Tropic Thunder" and 2004's "Starsky & Hutch"), but a good con-man tale is hard to resist, in black or white.

--Steven Zeitchik and John Horn

Photo: Ben Stiller. Credit: Liz O. Baylen/Los Angeles Times


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...




Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: