Heartbreak Kid, The

After several vastly¬†disappointing comedies, both artistically and commercially (“Me, Myself & Irene,” “Shallow Hal,” “Stuck on You”), the Farrelly brothers are back with¬†the mediocre “The Heartbreak Kid,” their occasionally funny, but devoid of poignancy remake of the 1972 comedy, starring Charles Grodin, whose role is now played by the Ben Stiller.

The film premiered at the 2007 Deauville Film Fest (which specializes in American films, mostly indies), and DreamWorks/Paramount will release it stateside on October 5. Commercially, it may not reach the figures of Stiller’s previous comedy, “Night at the Museum” (which grossed worldwide $600 million!), but I have no doubts that it will be popular with young and middle-aged audiences, particularly those unfamiliar with the original picture.

It’s noteworthy, that “Heartbreak Kid” is the first Farrelly picture which is R-rated since “Me, Myself & Irene,” back in 2000, thus permitting the directors to go wild and make a more adult sex comedy, without fearing the censors’ wrath.

This is the second good update of a classic film, following the Western “3:10 to Yuma” (a remake of the 1957 oater), showing that remakes of old good films could result in good films, if they are handled by the right director, scribe, and stars, which this “Heartbreak Kid” certainly does.

The 1972 film was directed by Elaine May and centered on a romantic triangle of Charles Grodin and Jeannie Berlin (May’s daughter), as the (very) Jewish couple, and a Waspish shiksa, played by the young Cybill Shepherd as the desirable woman who disrupts the marriage during the honeymoon. With sufficient references to the original film to merit the label remake, this “Heartbreak Kid” is also entertaining in its own right. It’s marked by mostly intelligent dialogue and off-the-wall situations that aretolerable in comedies and thus make tge pictuyre enjoyable from start to finish.

Quite ingeniously, while maintaining the original concept, the Farrellys and their writers, Scott Armstrong and Leslie Dixon, have made some crucial changes. First, they changed the locale. The 1972 picture, which playwright Neil Simon scripted, was set in New York, with the couple honeymooning in Florida, hence placing the couple in two Jewish-flavored sites. In contrast, the new comedy is set in San Francisco, sending the couple to a foreign country for their bliss, Mexico, thus adding some cross-cultural flavor as well.

But more important is the change of the protagonists’ looks and personality. While Stiller still plays a Jewish boy, domineered by his father (embodied by Stiller’s real-life dad Jerry Stiller in a casting coup), this feature has reversed the female types. If the 1972 film was based on the notion of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” the new one opts for “Gentlemen Prefer Brunettes.”

With the patented, over-the-top Farrelly humor, this outrageous comedy also relies on profanity (there’s a good share of hair-raising one-liners), shocking sight gags (though nothing like the flying sperm in “There’s Something About Mary”), and outlandish antics, piled on a twisted comedy of errors.

Again inspired by Bruce Jay Friedman’s story (which served as the basis for the 1972 film), this comedy is about a man who falls in love with another woman just days after his own wedding. Who’s this man Eddie Cantrow (Stiller), a fortysomething athletic goods emporium owner, is a bachelor under increasing pressures from his father Doc (Jerry Stiller) and best friend Mac (Rob Cordry) to find the right woman and tie the knot. Is Eddie too picky about women, just insecure, fearful of commitment to one femme

Opportunity knocks, when a chance encounter with an alluring blonde, Lila (Malin Akerman, hailing from Sweden) leads to a pleasant affair. Lila is impressed with Eddie’s interruption of her mugging on Van Ness, a busy San Francisco street. A whirlwind romance follows and Eddie proposes in haste, rather impulsively. However, right after the wedding, as the newlyweds get to know each other while driving down the California Coast, Eddie begins to suspect that he might have made a huge, terrible mistake.

Reversing some gender stereotypes, the film depicts Lila as a foul-mouthed woman with a trucker’s rather than lady’s vocabulary, and blessed (or cursed) with an insatiable appetite for sex in all kinds of hilariously athletic positions. The Farrellys play a nasty joke here on jocks and their limited sexual repertoire.

Refuting Eddie’s allegations, dad Doc says, “You think your wife’s a nutcase, just because on your honeymoon in a tropical paradise, she’s singing a lot, wanting to have sex around the clock, and accidentally gets too much sun” Indeed, quite conveniently for all concerned, Lila’s sunburn confines her to their hotel suite, allowing Eddie free time and energy to engage in his fantasies and escapades

Making things worse is another chance encounter at the exotic Mexican resort of Cabo, this time with Miranda (Michelle Monaghan), who’s attending a reunion with her South-based family. An appealing brunette, Miranda seems to be the opposite of Lila. A cool high-school teacher she’s down to earth, grounded, and wholesome; she seems more “normal” than the flighty and needy Lila. Being more of his speed and on the level–sort of the ideal girl-next-door–means that Eddie can communicate with Miranda and be more relaxed without extra effort or the usual pretense.

But afraid of losing what he sees at the girl of his dreams, Eddie neglects to tell Miranda or her relatives that he’s not single. From that point on, the Farrelly’s romp takes its anti-hero to extremities in human conduct, throwing him in one hilariously impossible situation after another.

Dealing with racial stereotypes (Jewish versus WASPs) and sharp social hierarchy, May’s film was misunderstood by some critics, who claimed that her comedy was “anti-Semitic,” because most of the characters had “negative” Jewish traits. Times have changed, and the Farrellys know that race and ethnicity are not as crucial factors in social life as they were three decades ago.

However, social class, lifestyle, and manners do count at present. And, indeed, the filmmakers show how Eddie is initially determined to be less vulgar or coarse than his Las Vegas-loving father, who is not above talking about “pussy” and “snatch” when describing female anatomy.

Miranda’s Mississippi relative Martin (Danny McBride) plays the equivalent role that Eddie Albert played in 1972, except that he’s now her cousin rather than her irascible WASPish father, as was the case in May’s picture. Other secondary characters include a Portuguese hotel worker, “Uncle Tito” (played by the excellent comedian Carlos Mencia), a free-spirited eccentric (sporting a strange wig and huge moustache) at the idyllic resort, who with energy and bravado gets right into the midst of chaos of false identities and misunderstandings. The Farrellys are using Tito’s character to healthily deconstruct what could be described as “Mexican flavor.”

Cast

Eddie Cantrow (Ben Stiller)
Miranda(Michelle Monaghan)
Doc (Jerry Stiller)
Lila (Malin Akerman)
Mac (Rob Corddry)
Uncle Tito (Carlos Mencia)
Martin (Danny McBride)
Boo (Scott Wilson)

Credits

A Paramount Pictures release of a DreamWorks Pictures presentation of a Radar Pictures, Davis Entertainment, Conundrum production.
Produced by Ted Field, Bradley Thomas, John Davis.
Executive producers, Marc S. Fischer, Joe Rosenberg, Charles B. Wessler.
Co-producers, Tony Lord, Matthew Weaver. Directed by Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly. Screenplay, Scot Armstrong, Leslie Dixon, Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly, Kevin Barnett, based on the screenplay by Neil Simon, inspired by a story by Bruce Jay Friedman.
Camera: Matthew F. Loenetti.
Editors: Alan Baumgarten, Sam Seig.
Music, Brendan Ryan, Bill Ryan.
Production designer: Sidney J. Bartholomew Jr.
Costume designer: Louise Mingenbach.

MPAA Rating: R.
Running time: 114 Minutes