By Ray Pride
“The Heartbreak Kid,” a remake of a memorably bracing Elaine May comedy, is directed by the Farrelly brothers, Peter and Bobby, whose biggest success was “There’s Something About Mary” (1999) with its pinched-testicle and semen hair-gel jokes. The “Jackass” crew and Sacha Baron Cohen, among others, upped the gross-out ante since then, and extended what the MPAA allows in its R-rated movies. While the source material is respectable, the Farrellys do desperate things in hope of a career comeback after the sweet-tempered but low-grossing “Stuck On You” and “Fever Pitch.” The result isn’t outrageous, but almost insanely repellent.
Acting 40 with gray hair and dark circles under his eyes, Ben Stiller plays Eddie, a San Francisco sporting goods store owner whose 77-year-old father (Jerry Stiller) mocks him for not being a “pussy-crusher.” Eddie meets a Cameron Diaz-like blonde, Lila (Malin Akerman) at the wedding of his ex-girlfriend, where his henpecked best friend (Rob Corddry) mocks him mercilessly and they trade unfunny barbs in unlikely “Italian mouse” voices. As quick as you can say “the first of many, many scenes not written but assembled and scored to pop songs,” they marry and they’re driving to “Cabo” for their honeymoon. Akerman’s mannerisms as the increasingly insane woman are straight from the Diaz playbook, but within the cheer, more shiksaoid than shiksa. A sudden veer into dirty motel room sex is the first time you want to fall through the floor, or at least run to the candy counter to smell the hot dogs. “Helicopter me!”; “I’m not a big helicopter guy!”; “Jackhammer me! Cock me! Cock me!”; and “Fuck me like a black man, Eddie, come on!” The look on the face of America’s most consistently commercial leading man is confusion, not comedy, when Lila calls from behind a closed bathroom door, “That’s good, ‘cos I just queefed big time!”
The turgidly paced, two-hour “Heartbreak Kid” reveals itself to be about a sexually inexperienced dullard who’s too stupid to discover that the blonde who giggled into his life is nothing less than batshit crazy. With Charles Grodin in Elaine May’s version (written by Neil Simon from a Bruce Jay Friedman short story), you empathize with his mortification and humanity; with Stiller, you feel mortified and in mortal danger of losing your own humanity. Michelle Monaghan, who was splendid in the underrated “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” is a glorious presence as the down-to-earth woman he meets and woos while on his honeymoon, and she’s the only one who comes away with a modicum of dignity intact. There is no sweetness outside her glow. This is a hateful movie. There are two especially repellent scenes in the Farrelly “Heartbreak,” one involving an exaggeratedly hairy pubic mound on a woman as she prepares to urinate on a man’s back in public in front of dozens of onlookers. (The exploding cartoon muff resembles the dry scruff along the tracks of a scale-model railroad set.) The other features a burro with a grandiose erection. “That was actually a female donkey with a strap-on penis,” Bobby Farrelly tells the Times of London. “It took two weeks to train her, but the very first take that she gave us made us laugh our heads off. So it was worth it in the end.” There’s really no reason to talk about misogyny in the case of this disastrous, ill-starred, filthy, hateful movie. There are broad racist caricatures involving Mexicans and jus’ folks from Mississippi, but misanthropy is the depressing sum. An inexplicably extended montage shows Eddie as part of a crowd of Mexicans attempting to cross the open U. S. border, and their roustings go on long enough to be accompanied by two songs. We’re a long way from the desert scenes in “Fast Food Nation” and “Babel.” There’s a fine closing line, which reeks of an existential dilemma this lying, unfunny, unattractive, serial adulterer could never experience. Matthew F. Leonetti’s camerawork is grimy and sub-par, with a palette of grain that would not be out of place in a “Hostel” sequel. There’s a cornucopia of product placement, and the corporations that cleared their products for display include co-star Patagonia, Corona, Lay’s Classic, Ruffles, Nike, Tylenol, Aquafina, Cuervo Especial, eVite, Tivo, Motorola Razrs, Corona, Subway sandwiches, Ruby Tuesdays and Patron. 116m. (Ray Pride)
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.