According to the calendar, we've rung in a new year, but according to Meet the Fockers, the fundamental comedy stereotypes apply as time goes by: Jews are loud, argumentative, and swarthy; Gentiles are bland, blond, and uptight; and Ben Stiller is itchy in his own skin. As Gaylord ''Greg'' Focker, Stiller is the same loud, argumentative, and swarthy fellow with the schoolyard-joke name who, four years ago in Meet the Parents, won the heart of bland, blond Pam Byrnes (Teri Polo), then had a harder time impressing Pam's cat-fancying, CIA-operative father, Jack (Robert De Niro). And in this hardworking sequel, once again directed by Jay Roach, Jack's eccentricity (or, as they say in the CIA, his mishegoss) is even more pronounced; his ''I'm watching you'' hand gestures now seem lifted from street mimes.
Meet the Parents had its own broad, satisfying comic inevitability, as Romeo schmoozed Juliet's kin and Greg passed the rigorous who-wants-to-be-a- fiancé tests devised by Jack (with the elegantly tousled Blythe Danner as Pam's WASPy mother). But there's nothing so comfortably inevitable or laugh-ready about Meet the Fockers. Instead, Greg has been turned into a neurotic who is unappealingly anxious about whether his own parents will pass the Byrnes test of propriety. He has become a full-fledged jerk, an adult embarrassed on behalf of his own parents because they're too Jewish. Oooh, but one doesn't say things like that, does one? Neither does Meet the Fockers, exactly.
After all, who would be embarrassed rather than proud to have Barbra Streisand and Dustin Hoffman as Ma and Pa? Playing the well-tanned Roz and Bernie of Focker Isle, Fla., Streisand and Hoffman are loud, argumentative, and prone to ejaculations of ''Oy''; they're also lusty, liberal, generous, and uninhibited. Roz is a sex therapist who specializes in revving up the libidos of oldsters; Bernie is a lawyer-turned-househusband who loves every ringletted hair on the head of his caftaned wife. The two are a hoot, a movable feast of heart and shtick. How they raised a son as tetchy and gimlet-eyed as Stiller's Greg is a stumper best left to Dr. Phil, or better yet, Dr. Ruth. The only reason to spend time with all the prospective in-laws, really, is to visit with Roz and Bernie.
Which is to say, with Streisand and Hoffman. In their sly, zesty company, this negligible sequel becomes a party, a triumph of star power over stereotype. It turns out that Streisand has stumbled into a delicious third-quarter career, if she wants one, as an exuberantly less-than-perfect hot mama. As for Hoffman, the crazy Focker steals the picture just by having fun, salty as a lox. Go figure.