Say It Isn't So

The Farrelly brothers, the notorious gross-comedy auteurs, fall flat on their faces as producers of J.B. Rogers' Say It Isn't So, a silly, banal comedy that tries to integrate the familiar Farrelly ingredients of bathroom humor, profane lingo, and shock elements to mostly poor and offensive results. Lacking real story or engaging characters, this high-concept comedy about the seemingly “incestuous” affair between a brother and sister boasts perhaps half a dozen good laughs, while the rest is a coldly calculated, often embarrassing concoction that even likable performers such as Chris Klein and Heather Graham (as the presumed siblings) can't save. A failure on any level, this Fox release is a one-weekend movie that may not even please hardcore Farrelly fans.

With half a dozen movies to their credits, including Dumb and Dumber, There's Something About Mary, and Me, Myself and Irene, it's now possible to distinguish the good and hilarious Farrelly comedies from the bad and ugly ones, such as Kingpin and now Say It Isn't So, which was helmed by the Farrelly's protege, J.B. Rogers.

The strength of American comedy has always been in breaking taboos. Indeed, the Farrellys have taken bathroom humor and gross-out gags to a whole new level, one in which potentially offensive subjects such as masturbation and physical disability feature prominently. Political correctness is anathema in Farrelly's oeuvre, which is replete with inappropriate and reprehensible punch lines. Their unapologetic humor is a peculiar combination of brutality and wholesomeness, lowbrow and highbrow, but seldom mean-spirited. All of the above holds true up until Say It Isn't So, a degradation comedy that instead of entertaining viewers ends up humiliating them as well as the filmmakers themselves.

The appealing Chris Klein (Election, American Pie) stars as Gilly Noble, an animal control worker in Shelbyville, small-town Indiana. An orphan still looking for his birth mother, Gilly is an old-fashioned romantic, yearning for the kind of love that can be measured by the “goosebumps” upon meeting an alluring femme. Fate leads him to a disastrous encounter with Jo (Graham), a beautiful but clumsy hairdresser, who in their first meeting slices off the top of his ear and sends him out of her salon with a bizarre haircut. to say the least. It turns out that Jo is back from Beaver, Oregon to visit her father, Walter (Richard Jenkins), who recently suffered stroke and is now under the tight supervision of his greedy, dishonest wife, Valdine (Sally Field).

Labeling Gilly a loser, the immoral Valdine claims that he's her biological son and hence can't marry Jo. This of course happens right after the two lovebirds engage in passionate sex. The whole thing is viewed as a violation of the incest taboo, and Gilly's photo as a sex pervert is posted in every public place. Devastated, Gilly leaves, clearing the way for Jo to marry Jack (Eddie Cibrian), a seemingly suave guy, who carries his own bag of dirty family laundry.

After the first reel, the little energy contained in the narrative all but disappears, and the filmmakers resort to a series of physical comedy skits. Gilly goes on to form a bond with Dig McCaffey (Orlando Jones), a paraplegic he hits in a car accident. In the course of the story, Dig loses his artificial legs no less than three times. Lacking pacing, wit, and grace, Say It Isn't So soon becomes a tiresome comedy, punctuated by routines that call for all the characters to endure pain, humiliation and abuse, both physical and mental. The picture reaches its lowest ebb, when miserable dad is pelted by bird doo and attacked by bees–while being watched by his vindictive wife.

As evidenced in Boogie Nights, Graham is an amiable performer who needs strong directorial guidance, which is totally missing here. Klein's natural charm overcomes up to a point a poorly written role that calls for him, among other things, to get a blow job from a cat under the sheets, mask his face with facial hair removed from the butt of a bearded woman, and shove his arm into a cow's rear twice, first to move her off the road, then to rescue his wedding ring.

In an obvious effort to change her screen image, Field (still ridiculed in Hollywood for her “you really like me” Oscar speech) goes out of her way to be trashy and outrageous, sporting cheap-looking blond hair and cheesy costumes. But to what effect

There's Something About Mary represented a point of departure for the Farrellys, because the rude humor was put to the service of a romantic comedy that was not about sex but about the universal fantasy of reliving amorous obsessions–reuniting with a highschool sweetheart. Even if you took the dog-in-flames, the zipper, the hair and the serial killer jokes out of the film, its structure was so inventive and its characterizations so sharp that it was still robust. But with Say It Isn't So, the Farrellys are back to a plotless series of skits that celebrate provincialism, silliness, and sheer torture.