Friday, October 05, 2007

"The Heartbreak Kid" -- * *

For a comedy that doesn't really allow the jokes to ever stop flying, let alone the Farrelly Brothers' first return to R-rated raunchy comedy in over 7 years, "The Heartbreak Kid" offers appallingly few genuine laughs, though it can't be faulted for trying. It's a rather hit-and-miss affair, and when it hits, it hits hard, but there's significantly more misses in store. Though I'm sure it will be a relatively big hit, I'm sad to report that this remake of the Charles Grodin classic registers as my least favorite movie in the Farrellys' ouvre.

Our "hero" Eddie Cantro (Ben Stiller) has a history of dumping girls for the slightest details (one because she thought the gopher in "Caddyshack" looked too fake), and the movie kicks off with him going to the wedding of a former girlfriend. Tired of singlehood and dismissing girls for trivial reasons, he takes a leap and marries his latest girlfriend Lila (Malin Akerman) after dating her for only six weeks. Almost immediately after the wedding, on their honeymoon in Cabo, all of Lila's flaws come out. Not only is she wildly stupid and irritating, she also has a (literally) violent sexual appetite and has insane debts she's neglected to tell Eddie about. Being driven nuts by Lila, who's confined to the hotel room with a horrible sunburn, Eddie meets Miranda (Michelle Monaghan, meh as usual) at his resort, and begins to fall for her.

The Farrellys mined huge laughs in "There's Something About Mary" and (more debatably) "Me, Myself and Irene," from blue, R-rated material, and a big problem with "Heartbreak Kid" is that much of the raunch and gross-out material feels extremely forced, as if they're desperately trying to re-create "Mary's" success. Hearing Jerry Stiller asking "You crushing any pussy?" or calling someone "pussydick" might have seemed hilarious on paper, but in execution it's just lame, as is virtually all of the elderly comedian's material (an old person being foul mouthed! What originality!). Most of the R-rated stuff falls flat, including what is clearly meant to be the film's big word-of-mouth scene (a la "hair gel"), involving urine, a vaginal piercing and a tuft of pubic hair. The lone exception to this rule is the outrageous sex scenes, which are quite funny and demand an R-rating; it's certain lines like "Fuck me like a black guy!" couldn't have passed muster in a PG-13 film.

But it's not merely the forced raunchiness gags that are sub par, even the less dirty jokes and set-pieces don't really work. A running gag involving a mariachi band seems to just fizzle out, and an extended sequence late in the movie of Eddie trying to cross the Mexican border is ill-conceived and serves only to make the movie longer. Also, Lila's deviated septum causes things to inconveniently come out of her nose, and we get three separate gross sequences devoted to it (SPOILER! Apple juice, a big tylenol pill and seafood).

The chief problem, and what I suspect is a big contributor to the lack of funny, is that this is the Farrellys' first movie that merely uses the character as props for the carefully orchestrated (by FIVE writers) set-pieces. Say what you want about their films, but from "Dumb and Dumber" to "Me Myself and Irene" to "Fever Pitch," they have always had an affection for their characters in everything they've done. Here they're too caught up in trying to re-create past success to remember to give us anyone we care about. Though he was rumored to have been "softened" from the original film, our lead here is still problematically unlikable, which might be more of a problem if he was fleshed out at all.

Stiller isn't at fault for this. He's completely game for the character's assholic actions, and though people seem to be getting tired of him playing similar roles, he still has a knack for delivery and certainly has his moments here (his outburst at the mariachi band is much funnier in context than in the trailer). Him appearing in raunchier fare is definitely a step in the right direction though, as he's better and more creative when unhinged than as his neutered self we usually get.

Akerman is frequently hilarious and obviously has genuine talent. She's also conventionally great-looking, but unfraid to make herself look awful for the good of a joke. While fellow blonde Cameron Diaz was charming and goofy in "Mary," she doesn't have the chops or comedic skill to pull off what Akerman does here. Despite her one-dimensional character being written as an irritating psycho, Lila's still the most sympathetic character in the film, and that's a credit to the actress, not the screenplay.

The supporting cast varies in levels of quality. Seeing Carlos Mencia's name in the opening credits should've been a warning sign of what was to come, and sure enough, he's awful, annoying and giving a gratingly-repeated catchphrase ("Screw off!") On the other hand, Rob Corddry gets the film's funniest moments as Eddie's best friend who insists on marital bliss despite obviously being terrified by his wife, and it's a shame he's not in the movie more.

Perhaps I'm mildly overreacting because I'm usually such a big fan of the Farrelly Brothers, but I was really let down by "The Heartbreak Kid." Running a very long hour and 50 minutes, it isn't an awful film, just a mediocre one with far too many laughless stretches. In my book that puts it in the same catalog as "Wedding Crashers" and "Bruce Almighty," both of which made over $200 million so, hey, shows you how much I know.


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