Ben Stiller, Malin Akerman, Michelle Monaghan, Jerry Stiller, Rob Corddry
Peter and Bobby Farrelly
Peter and Bobby Farrelly, Leslie Dixon, Scot Armstrong, Kevin Barnett
What's truly heartbreaking about "The Heartbreak Kid," a Farrelly Brothers gross-out remake of an Elaine May 1972 Oscar-nominated comedy classic, is that it serves to remind us how far the Farrelly's have plummeted since such widely praised films as "There's Something About Mary" and "Dumb & Dumber."
Starring Ben Stiller in the role that Charles Grodin defined, "The Heartbreak Kid" leaves behind the intelligence, wit, dark nuances and subtle undertones and replaces them with juvenile body fluid jokes, gay and ethnic humor, misogyny, mean-spiritedness and downright lazy humor.
The tagline for "The Heartbreak Kid" is "Love Blows." No Peter and Bobby, actually, it's "The Heartbreak Kid" that blows.
About 30 minutes into "The Heartbreak Kid," I found myself pleasantly surprised. Despite this general feeling that Stiller was doing his same old shtick again, I found myself enjoying the film and thinking that "The Heartbreak Kid" was heading into the solid "B" range with plenty of laughs to be found.
Then, suddenly, the Farrelly Brothers lost complete control of the film and what starts out as one of their silly, dark yet sweet comedies downward spirals into a sea of ludicrous situations, overtly abusive scenarios and an overwhelming feeling of ickiness that stuck to me as firmly as the infamous hair gel from "There's Something About Mary."
In "The Heartbreak Kid," Ben Stiller plays Eddie Cantrow, a San Francisco-based owner of a sporting goods store who is harassed unmercifully by his father (real life father Jerry Stiller) and best friend (Rob Corddry) about both being single and a notable lack of sexual prowess. When he's humiliated at the wedding of his longtime girlfriend, Eddie bounces back by carrying on a whirlwind romance with the beautiful Lila (Malin Akerman of "Harold & Kumar go to White Castle") that leads abruptly to an engagement a mere six weeks later.
Up to this point in "The Heartbreak Kid," it looks like we're all in for a classic, though admittedly predictable, Stiller performance.
Somehow, Lila and Eddie get married without ever really discussing anything remotely important and, obviously, without ever having consummated their love.
Job issues? Apparently irrelevant.
Money issues? Obviously not an issue.
Sex? Well, gee whiz, we're in love and all.
Deviated septums? Oh wait, I digress.
The two young lovebirds are quickly married and head off on a romantic road trip to Cabo San Lucas for a three-week honeymoon. The road trip quickly goes awry as, practically instantaneously, Lila becomes Eddie's nightmare from hell with her incessant singing to godawful pop tunes, bad math skills and voracious sexual appetite.
These are bad things?
Apparently, for Eddie, these are bad things and he finds himself questioning his decision to marry even before the two arrive in Mexico. Of course, as in the Elaine May original, once arriving in Mexico the situation becomes even more unbearable and, once Lila is laid up in the room with a horrid sunburn that she received trying to prove Eddie wrong about the need for sunblock, Eddie starts to wander and, gasp!, meets his real soul mate, a more down-to-earth Miranda (Michelle Monaghan of "Mission Impossible III") who he conveniently forgets to tell that he's on his honeymoon.
The problem with "The Heartbreak Kid" is that the Farrelly Brothers never let go of the idea that Eddie is the hero of the film, even as he completely tramples on everyone's feelings, ignores and quickly turns unfaithful on his quirky yet loving wife and completely deceives his new "soul mate."
Stiller, as well, appears utterly confused as to what to make of Eddie. The vast majority of the film, Stiller is giving Eddie his best "lovable dork" persona even after Eddie has practically stabbed everyone in his life in the back. Stiller's performance simply doesn't match his spoken words and the result is as uncomfortable as it is unconvincing. Even worse, while it seems Eddie is supposed to be the film's hero, one can't help but feel much more sympathy for Lila and, to an even greater degree, the nearly flawless Miranda.
The Farrelly's, who have never been particularly respectful of women in their films, are downright ruthless with Lila, whose deepest flaw seems to be that she's early enough in her recovery process that she apparently falls for charming, deceptive men. Akerman is really too good of an actress here, and her Lila ends up being remarkable sympathetic despite the continuous garbage that the Farrelly's throw at her. Her full-frontal sex scenes are hilarious and a scene on the beach with Stiller is a scene that only could come from the minds of the Farrelly Brothers and the team of five, count em' five writers.
On the strength of Michelle Monaghan's performance alone, "The Heartbreak Kid" nearly salvages its rating. As Miranda, Monaghan is completely delightful and gives the film its sole emotional anchor. Whereas a Farrelly Brothers film typically combines gross out and offensive humor with a heartfelt core, "The Heartbreak Kid" is remarkably devoid of anything remotely resembling sincerity and Monaghan's performance comes closest to blending the intelligence, wit and dark tones of the vastly superior original film.
Rob Corddry gets quite a few laughs as Eddie's henpecked best friend, while Jerry Stiller simply turns his old comedy routines up a notch in loudness and offensiveness. "The Heartbreak Kid" also offers a few surprise performances from present and past including Polly Holliday (Flo from the old "Alice" TV series), comedian Carlos Mencia (Who'd have thought he could be unconvincing as a Mexican?), Leslie Easterbrook (the "Police Academy" films), Ali Hillis (recently delightful in "The Ultimate Gift") and Danny McBride ("Hot Rod").
The screenplay, loosely based upon the Neil Simon's 1972 screenplay, is assembled by the usually dependable Farrelly's along with Scot Armstrong ("School for Scoundrels" and "Old School"), Leslie Dixon ("Hairspray" and "Mrs. Doubtfire") and newcomer Kevin Barnett. Unfortunately, with so many writers, "The Heartbreak Kid" almost inevitably feels like a hodgepodge of inconsistent ideas and varied tones.
After trashing "Night at the Museum," Stiller's last project, I found myself truly hoping that "The Heartbreak Kid" would represent a return to form for Stiller given his re-teaming with the Farrelly Brothers. Instead, it has become abundantly clear that Stiller's in a comedic rut and the humor crown once worn proudly by the Farrelly Brothers has been rightfully claimed by the much more consistent and delightful Judd Apatow.
If nothing else, I can honestly say that "The Heartbreak Kid" is appropriately named...this mean-spirited and surprisingly unfunny Stiller/Farrelly teaming is truly heartbreaking.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic