October 11, 2007

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The Heartbreak Kid (R)
Ben Stiller plays that same romantic loser he’s played in most of his films since Reality Bites in the remake The Heartbreak Kid, a strangely soulless Farrelly brothers movie.

Despite the graying hair, Eddie (Stiller) is living the life of a post-college 20something. He owns a sporting good store, avoids marriage and his best offer on Valentine’s Day is to head to Vegas with his 70something-year-old father (played by Stiller’s actual father Jerry Stiller) and pick up chicks. Eddie chooses option B, however, and attends his ex-fiancée’s wedding, where he’s relegated to the singles table and is older than the rest of the bunch by almost 30 years. When he meets Lila (Malin Akerman), it seems like fortune has smiled on him. She’s pretty, single, likes David Bowie (Eddie’s favorite rock star) and, er, pretty — the two don’t actually get to know each other much before, faced with losing Lila when her employer transfers her to Europe, Eddie proposes.

Quicker than you can say “write your names in your books and don’t throw away those boxes” these barely-weds are headed to Mexico for their honeymoon.

Right away, Eddie starts to have doubts. Lila sings in the car, loudly and constantly. She eats a lot and, as he discovered at her wedding, heftiness may run in the genes. Sex is, uhm, energetic — perhaps more so than Eddie can handle. When they get to Mexico, Lila seems demanding and swats down Eddie’s plans for fishing trips and exploring Mexico on a donkey. After she burns herself during an afternoon of sunbathing, she locks herself in the bathroom and Eddie, whose eyes are already darting around like those of a frightened animal looking for a chance to scurry back in to the thicket, heads to the bar.

There he runs in to Miranda (Michelle Monaghan), another guest at the hotel with whom he has already shared a few moments of goofy-smile-intensive chemistry. She introduces him to her family (they’re in Mexico celebrating an aunt and uncle’s anniversary) and within moments Eddie and the gang are cracking jokes and downing shots. Eddie returns to a still puffy Lila but believes himself in love with Miranda. As the moments to explain his marital situation keep passing him by, Eddie gets closer to Miranda and her wacky family and more on the outs with Lila.

Your family is great, Eddie tells Miranda shortly after meeting them. In addition to the aunt and uncle, the vacationing group includes two cousins and their wives and grandpa. Though a bit overly quirky, Miranda’s family is great — rednecks but cool rednecks like Jimmy Carter, is how Eddie describes them. They care about each other, feature three married couples who seem devoted to each other and are corny but portrayed with enough goodwill that we like them in spite of their sitcomishness. They are great; they are typical Farrelly brothers characters.

What’s surprising about the rest of the movie and the rest of the characters in the movie is that they aren’t typical Farrelly brothers movies. The characters of There’s Something About Mary or Me, Myself & Irene didn’t exactly impress you with their subtlety but they did display some surprising depth and personality that went beyond fart jokes and boob-shots. There was real love — between the romantic partners, between true friends and especially between family members.

In The Heartbreak Kid, there is little actual affection between characters outside Miranda’s quirky family. Eddie has no chemistry with Lila and little with Miranda, who seems too grounded to be interested in this stuttery mess of a guy. Stiller and his father actually have less family-like chemistry than the unrelated actors who fill in the roles of Miranda’s family. Eddie’s friend and the representation of the worst of married life is played by Rob Corddry. He jumps when his wife calls and lectures Eddie about why he should get married but the men display no actual buddiness. His character just feels like yet another sitcom convention.

The least likeable, most soul-less character is Eddie. Unlike even Hal in Shallow Hal, there is no softer side of Eddie, no immature caterpillar which turns into a loving, lessons-learned butterfly. Eddie is a weenie-loser from beginning to end. Lila might be a bit of a nut job but isn’t that what you get when you marry a girl who doesn’t yet know your full first name? Her sunburn and bad singing voice don’t make Eddie any less of a jerk for hitting on another girl on their honeymoon.

“Bitches be crazy,” the movie’s male characters repeat in this movie. Put aside for a moment that the craziest behavior is demonstrated by Eddie (which, I suppose, the movie knows and wants us to laugh at). This movie really does give you a sense that despite its “laughing at the guys” pose it is quite dismissive of women, a weird tone for a Farrelly brothers movie to strike. This mean undercurrent along with the general unlikeablity of the characters makes for a surprisingly unpleasant movie. D+

Rated R for strong sexual content (e.g. boobs and a brief yet distrubing sight gag involving a donkey), crude humor and language. Directed by Bobby and Peter Farrelly and written by the Farrellys, Scot Armstrong, Leslie Dixon and Kevin Barnett (from a 1972 screenplay by Neil Simon which is from a short story by Bruce Jay Friedman), The Heartbreak Kid is an hour and 56 minutes long and is distributed by Paramount Pictures in wide release.