1. There is nothing objectively wrong with trying to make money. We can agree on this, yes? There are certain immoralities whose aim is the garnering of wealth that may be objectively wrong -- credit default swaps, insurance fraud, "Now That's What I Call Music" -- but earning cash is not, inherently, evil. It is, after all, what makes the world turn and is ultimately the engine of everything on earth, from scientific breakthroughs to romantic entanglements to typing half-baked thoughts about movies on one of the largest Web sites in the solar system. Just because someone does something for money doesn't mean they're a bad person. They're just a squirrel trying to get a nut like everybody else.
2. What bothers us, then, when we talk about something being a "cash grab" -- which is a phrase I've already seen in at least five reviews of "Little Fockers," the third and (presumably?) final entry in the "Meet The Parents" franchise -- is that people are bringing in money without earning it, without trying. The next Batman movie, even if it's just Christian Bale and Tom Hardy playing table tennis while Michael Caine drinks a glass of water, is going to earn millions and millions of dollars, but no one begrudes Christopher Nolan or Warner Bros. this because we known they will try. (Though there'd be something gleefully Warholian about my imaginary scenario.) A movie like "Little Fockers" offends us so because it's like a third-generation heir -- one who never felt like working and just gobbles up trust funds and tee times -- getting rich when they've done nothing to deserve it.
3. It probably shouldn't work that way. After all, an heir didn't make the money in the first place, but the principals of "Little Fockers" initially charmed us, right? It's more like an aged rocker belting our their mid-'70s hit in a seedy lounge, or, more accurate, like the rocker selling his melody for a commercial for floor cleaner. But it bothers us, probably because we invested so much in these actors and this story at one point that now, this, it feels like a betrayal. The first "Meet The Parents" was zany and good, clean fun; the joke that Robert De Niro -- De Niro! -- would ask nebbishy Ben Stiller, "can you milk me?" was absurd and strange enough that we responded to it. The second film was stunt-casting at its nadir; Dustin Hoffman had no issues with being a goof for a payday, and even had some fun with it, but when you're Barbra Streisand, and these sequels are the only two movies you've done in 14 years, a certain desperate cynicism hasn't just settled in but is starting to curdle. This third film is an endless, unfunny bore, but mostly, this third film is simply bored. It can't wrestle up the energy to bother.
4. Which is why we are offended by all this. It is one thing for Robert De Niro to get a paycheck. It's another to see him and Harvey Keitel, two screen legends whose career divergence is as almost fascinating as their work is, screaming at each other in a brainless scene that doesn't even seem aware the two men have ever worked together before. I suppose I'm glad Keitel got some cash out of this, but to what end? This is what we are paying them for? Everyone just looked bored and ready to go home. The movie's "guest stars" are all cameos, essentially popping in and waving at the camera, like those old "What's New, Pussycat?" or "Casino Royale" movies of the '60s, when Orson Welles comes out, grunts out a couple lines, has a slug of whiskey and goes home. Except our versions of those movies, today, have dog reaction shots and jokes about the erections of elderly men.
5. The one exception, strangely enough, is Stiller, who's not giving it his all but at least is minimalist enough by nature to make it look like his boredom is sort of the point. (By the way, anyone who wanted Jessica Alba to be punished for her comments about screenwriters need merely watch this film to sate their bloodlust. She's never been worse.) The whole enterprise is tired and exhausted and indifferent; even the title is irrelevant and dissembling. (The movie is not about the kids.) You can find yourself angry about all this, or you can just ignore it and go see "Black Swan" again. DeNiro and company aren't hurting their legacy walking their way through this. But they're not doing themselves any favors, either. You'd have more fun watching actual squirrels get actual nuts.