movieguru (2007-41)

Sick Shtick

by Leslie Wylie

Movie Guru

Ben Stiller and the Farrelly brothers reunite for an unfortunate cause

It has all the trappings of a borderline-watchable film: Ben Stiller in the lead, the Farrelly brothers at the helm, and a plot that, if not intellectually stimulating, at least promises a few lowbrow laughs. After all, this is the same actor/director team that gave the world Thereâ’s Something About Mary, 1998â’s charmingly crass anti-romantic comedy, so it canâ’t be that bad, right?

[Insert deafening silence here.]

With all due respect to the Farrelly brothersâ’ prior cinematic accomplishments, The Heartbreak Kid flushes all the boorish virtues of potty humor down the crapper and emerges with a brand of comedy that closer resembles raw sewage. From gratuitous displays of pubic hair to random acts of urination, over-inflated stripper boobs to donkey-on-woman bestiality, the film leaves no stone unturned in its quest to make the most of its R rating and, in doing so, lower the already low bar of American comedy.

Having said that, Stiller really canâ’t be faulted. He plays Eddie Cantrow, the 40-year-old owner of a San Francisco sporting goods store who, after years of evading the old ball-and-chain, dives headfirst into a marriage with a seemingly sweet, leggy blonde he barely knows. But as he finds out on their honeymoon in Cabo, wife Lila (Malin Akerman) has more than a few skeletons in her closet, among them a flip-switch temper, a $26,000 cocaine debt, fiendish bedroom behavior, and a talent for exacting revenge on ex-boyfriends.

As Eddie and Lilaâ’s honeymoon nears its nightmarish climax, a third party enters the mix. Her name is Miranda (Michelle Monaghan), and sheâ’s everythingâ"funny, sexy, and adventurous, with an affinity for kittens and kidsâ"that Eddie had hoped Lila would be. As his grotesquely sunburned wife mopes in their bathroom, Eddie finds himself falling in love with Miranda. Whatâ’s a guy to do?

If youâ’re Ben Stiller, this is the point at which you start to unravel and trade your calm, collected façade for that frenzied alter ego your audiences know and love. In The Heartbreak Kid, as in any flick on his resumé (Meet the Fockers, Along Came Polly, etc.), Stiller excels at falling apart, allowing the tables of sanity to turn on himself. Even the most benign annoyancesâ"the ever-present mariachi band, for instance, if youâ’ve seen the movieâ’s trailerâ"are suddenly catalysts for ballistic freak-outs as he struggles to free himself from the web of slapstick misunderstandings within which heâ’s found himself trapped.

Unfortunately, these moments are too often undermined by the directorsâ’ â“Keep it dirty, kidsâ” mantra. The Farrelly brothers press just a little too hard, inserting fart jokes (to use a G-rated example of their puerile humor) where fart jokes arenâ’t needed, playing just a little too fast and loose with their signature gross-out card.

Example: Yeah, it was kind of funny when Eddie was dancing around with a giant jellyfish stuck to his back, with Miranda running behind him, swatting it with a stick. It was even marginallyâ"OK, arguablyâ"comicalwhen Lila peeled off the offending marine life, threw her husband down, and publicly relieved herself on his back to alleviate the sting. But did they really have to end the scene with a close-up of Lilaâ’s, uh, furry and, er, flagrantly pierced nether-regions?

Not unlike superfluous sex and violence, superfluous grossness can be the undoing of an otherwise commendable reel of celluloid. The Farrelly brothers have made a career of walking the fine line between hilarious and disgusting, but with The Heartbreak Kid, the duo may have stuck its thumb just a little too far up its nose. If they were writing this review, of course, they probably wouldnâ’t put it so politely.

Movie Guru Rating:

Rental Floss

Knowing Perversity

Whatâ’s the worst that could happen? Say youâ’re a Jew in Nazi-occupied Holland and youâ’re unexpectedly driven out of your hiding place with just the clothes on your back, forced to sleep with the head of the local SS, branded a traitor, and doused with a vat of something unspeakable shortly before someone you once trusted with your life tries to kill you. And those are just some of the highlights from Rachel Steinâ’s 1944-45.

Indeed, Black Book is almost comically overstuffed with incident, tragedy, and twist upon twist as Rachel (Carice Van Houten) tries to survive the Nazis while getting back at them by working for the Dutch resistance. Fortunately, Paul Verhoeven called the shots. Returning to his native Netherlands and to the same material that made his name three decades ago in the superb, Soldier of Orange, the director brought with him the big-balls audacity and big-canvas skills he used to enliven post-Orange Hollywood button-pushers such as Basic Instinct and Starship Troopers. On the larger thematic level, that means knowing perversity, as Rachel (redubbed Ellis) actually falls for SS man Müntze (The Lives of Others⒠Sebastian Koch), who turns out to be a decent, stamp-collecting sort of Nazi, while the heroic resistance harbors secret anti-Semitism as well as a murderous traitor. On the more intimate level, that means knowing perversity: When Rachel is required to pass the utmost scrutiny as Gentile Ellis, Verhoeven cuts to a tight shot of her bleaching her pubes blonde.

Verhoeven keeps all two-hours-plus on track and zipping right along, though, and Van Houten occupies the center of things impressively. It seems perverse to recommend a film so rich in human suffering as a rollicking good time, but it is. â" Lee Gardner


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