The Heartbreak Kid

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Who knew that buried within director Elaine May and screenwriter Neil Simon's 1972 taboo-busting comedy "The Heartbreak Kid" there lurked a Farrelly brothers movie?

Of course, Peter and Bobby Farrelly have to dispense with the original movie's ethnic context, where a Jewish man is torn between a nice Jewish girl and a blond, blue-eyed shiksa. And they must jettison the satirical elements about social climbing and any notion that a comedy can edge into seriousness. But in terms of the audience for films by the Farrellys and star Ben Stiller, this "Kid" is all komedy with no heartbreak in sight. Domestic boxoffice will be significant.

The screenplay, from no fewer than five scribes -- Scot Armstrong, Leslie Dixon, Kevin Barnett and the two directors -- follows the general outline of the original penned by Simon from a short story by Bruce Jay Friedman: Man marries quickly without doing due diligence on his bride, suffers a disastrous honeymoon and falls in love with another woman before the honeymoon is over.

Stiller's Eddie Cantrow is a San Francisco sporting goods owner who at 40 has never married and is getting pressure from his vulgarian father (Ben's real-life father Jerry Stiller) and henpecked buddy (Rob Corddry) over his bachelor status. The wedding of his longtime fiance, which he actually attends, provokes a hasty response to a chance encounter with blond princess Lila (Malin Akerman), the victim of a purse snatching.

After a whirlwind courtship, which apparently does not include sex -- unlike the original, this film is a bit vague on that point -- a quickie wedding ensues. The couple then embarks on a car trip to a luxury hotel in the Mexican seaside resort of Cabo San Lucas. En route, Eddie makes the alarming discovery that his new wife sings along to every tune on the radio, has a sordid past and likes having sex with an athleticism that can cause serious back pain. Oh, and she has debts like you wouldn't believe.

A horrible sunburn consigns Lila to the bridal suite for several days. This provides plenty of time for Eddie to meet and fall for sweet, down-to-earth Miranda (Michelle Monaghan), who is vacationing with her entire Mississippi-based family. Somehow he never finds the right time to mention that he is on his honeymoon. That situation becomes not so much an angst-provoking torment as an excuse for a host of comic misunderstandings and running gags. Again, heartbreak does not enter the picture.

This romantic triangle with a perverse twist also serves as a vehicle for that Farrelly brothers speciality: the gross physical gag. This film concentrates on the nose. Lila has a deviated septum, which causes liquids, food and even pills to pop out of her nostril. And Miranda's cousin Martin (Danny McBride), who takes exception to her romance with Eddie, jams a painfully hot chili pepper up Eddie's nose. Other "physical" gags include the size of a donkey's penis and the lushness Lila's pubic fur. Now why didn't Neil Simon think of that?

A Farrelly brother film operates in a morally neutral zone. Even when a hotel worker (stand-up comic Carlos Mencia) "crosses the line" by placing Lila's hand on his genitals, this is treated as just another gag, of no more consequence than stealing a sip from someone else's margarita. Audiences can't take offense because these things all happen amid utter bad taste and outrageousness. The thing about this "Kid," though, is that the situation was designed for a more serious movie, so the brothers can't build sequences and toss off gags as they did with "Dumb and Dumber" or "There's Something About Mary."

The filmmaking glistens with a photogenic San Francisco, a swank resort, gorgeous sunsets, helicopter shots, a soundtrack of rock classics and a sheen that comes from such top professionals as cinematographer Matthew F. Leonetti and production designer Sidney Bartholomew. Farrelly brothers films are looking better and better, but aren't nearly as funny as their grungy early films that hit with the stealth and vigor of guerrilla commandos. Maybe there is a kind of heartbreak here after all.

THE HEARTBREAK KID
Paramount
DreamWorks presents a Radar Pictures/Davis Entertainment/Conundrum Entertainment production
Credits:
Directors: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly
Screenwriters: Scot Armstrong, Leslie Dixon, Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly, Kevin Barnett
Based on a screenplay by: Neil Simon
Based on a short story by: Bruce Jay Friedman
Producers: Ted Field, Bradley Thomas
Executive producers: Marc S. Fischer, John Davis, Joe Rosenberg, Charles B. Wessler
Director of photography: Matthew F. Leonetti
Music: Brendan Ryan, Bill Ryan
Co-producers: Tony Lord, Matthew Weaver
Costume designer: Louise Mingenbach
Editors: Alan Baumgarten, Sam Seig
Cast:
Eddie Cantrow: Ben Stiller
Miranda: Michelle Monaghan
Lila: Malin Akerman
Doc: Jerry Stiller
Mac: Rob Corddry
Uncle Tito: Carlos Mencia
Boo: Scott Wilson
Martin: Danny McBride
Running time -- 116 minutes
MPAA rating: R
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