It's been seven years since the Farrelly brothers made their last R-rated raunchy comedy, the mediocre Me, Myself and Irene. Since then, they've been trafficking in hit-and-miss, PG-13 affairs, like the dopey Shallow Hal and the semi-sweet Fever Pitch. They also helmed the embarrassing Stuck on You, which featured Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear as conjoined twins.
In the time since their last sicko hurrah, talents like Judd Apatow have come along to make R-rated comedy safe for studios again, so the Farrellys are back with The Heartbreak Kid. The film re-teams them with Ben Stiller, star of their comedy classic There's Something About Mary.
The film feels as if it's straining a bit, like the Farrellys are desperately trying to re-establish themselves as the Kings of Raunch. There are some big laughs scattered throughout, but there are also a few attempts at humor that go a bit overboard. It's definitely their funniest film since Mary, but, due to its inconsistencies, doesn't reside in the same class as that film.
This is a loose remake of the Elaine May-directed 1972 movie, based on a script by Neil Simon and starring Charles Grodin. Stiller plays Eddie, an unsettled commitment-phobe who can't catch a "love" break. He meets Lila (Malin Akerman) on the streets of San Francisco. She's perfect in every way: intelligent, beautiful and sophisticated. They immediately hit it off, and when they're faced with being separated, he pops the question and rushes into marriage.
The lesson of this movie: Always go on a road trip before you marry somebody.
The two head to Cabo San Lucas for their honeymoon, and Lila reveals herself as a devil woman. She has no job, a shrill singing voice, a relatively low level of intelligence and major issues in the bedroom. Things are further complicated when Eddie meets Miranda (Michelle Monaghan) and quickly falls in love.
Some of the gross-out humor works just fine. Stiller and Akerman share a couple of sex scenes that definitely count as some of the funniest in years. One particular moment culminates in bathroom humor that had me laughing out loud. Jerry Stiller is funny as Eddie's disgusting father ("Are you crushing any pussy?"), and there are a couple of moments with a donkey that are memorable.
The Farrellys manage to push things a little too far sometimes, a problem that plagued Me, Myself and Irene. Their shocking sight gags might result in laughter, but it's that strain of uncomfortable, unsure laughter that emits less from the belly and more from your clenched-up ass. A visual gag involving Lila's untrimmed nether regions is just not funny, an unsuccessful attempt to top that famous sperm hairdo from Mary.
Even with this film's problems, it's good to see Ben Stiller taking some risks again. He plays an unsavory character here, a far cry from the family-friendly Stiller seen in Night at the Museum and Meet the Fockers. Stiller excels with outlandishly adult material that calls upon his talents as a physical comedian. One of the movie's funnier parts involves a disheveled Eddie trying to make it back into the United States and having trouble with immigration officers. It was during this sequence that I laughed harder at Stiller than I have in years.
Akerman is a gifted comic actress. Her performance and appearance are drawing comparisons to Cameron Diaz, but I really don't see it. She's her own, unabashed comedic force in the film. Monaghan's role calls for her to be charming and little more. She manages that with grace.
The movie didn't do well in its opening weekend, a surprise considering the talent involved. Stiller and the Farrellys prove, once again, to be an entertaining combo. The Heartbreak Kid might be an uneven effort, but it gets its fair share of laughs and allows the talented Stiller to come unhinged. I hope this is the start of more risk-taking for him.