In The Heartbreak Kid, Ben Stiller takes another ride through the poop-splattered Tunnel of Love, and if you thought there was something about Mary, you should see Lila. A pert blond in the Cameron Diaz mold, Lila's a dream come true who turns into a nightmare the minute Stiller's Eddie Cantrow marries her. And Malin Akerman certainly makes her a bride to remember. Directed by the Farrelly brothers, Peter and Bobby, The Heartbreak Kid is another anti-romantic comedy from the masters of disaster, and some of the things that befall Eddie can't be described in a family newspaper. (Let's just say I'll never look at the beach scene in From Here to Eternity the same way again.) But there's also a heart in there somewhere, and this is perhaps the best work the Farrellys have done since Stiller had that slight problem with his zipper in There's Something About Mary, their last collaboration.
The movie's a remake, of sorts. Elaine May directed the original back in 1972, with Charles Grodin as the nice Jewish boy who marries a nice Jewish girl, then falls for a shiksa goddess (Cybill Shepherd) on his honeymoon. It was kind of like My Big Fat Greek Wedding - bursting with ethnic flavor, only with more of an edge, much more of an edge. Grodin's character was basically a schmuck, so dazzled by WASP privilege that he was willing to throw both his wife and his life away. And May made sure that being a Jew in a land of goys was never far from our minds. But the Farrellys apparently don't know from Portnoy's Complaint. Their nice Jewish boy may or may not be Jewish, and it's the blond who gets dumped for the brunette this time. Mazel tov! And let the nondenominational wackiness ensue.
There's plenty to go around. No sooner has Eddie, a 40-year-old bachelor who was a little altar-phobic, headed off to Mexico with his lovely spouse than she begins a transformation that would leave Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde asking for pointers. First, she sings a little too loudly and badly in the car on the way down. Then she engages in honeymoon sex that would qualify as torture under the Geneva Conventions. Then she farts like a truck driver. Then apple juice comes pouring out of her deviated septum. Then her skin, left out in the sun too long, erupts in a boiling stew of sores and blisters. No wonder Eddie finds himself spending time with Miranda (Michelle Monaghan), an easygoing, fun-loving, seemingly sane woman from Oxford, Miss., who's in Cabo for a family reunion. Her redneck relatives embrace Eddie across the great divide of class, but they draw the line at an anal-rape joke he tries out on them.
That's life in the Farrelly universe - one foot on the ground, the other in the cruder precincts of outer space. And they've definitely tried to top the hair-gel scene in There's Something about Mary with a treatment for the sting of a Portuguese man-of-war that I'm guessing isn't recommended by four out of five doctors. Or maybe it is, but not with such a full-frontal application. This is the Farrellys' first R-rated movie since Me, Myself & Irene, after a string of PG-13s that seemed a little neutered, if you ask me, and it's good to see them back in territory they more or less discovered, the blurry boundary between gross and sweet. Everybody's doing this kind of stuff now, but rarely with the same spirit. The Farrellys may not be the brightest bulbs on the tree (then again, it takes smarts to play this dumb), but there clearly isn't a mean bone in their bodies.
That goes for Stiller as well. He doesn't show us anything in The Heartbreak Kid that we haven't seen before, and there's a lot more to his talent than the nice guy who gets shat upon. (Dodgeball, where he played a gym rat who thinks he's a big cheese, is one of those movies I could watch every day for the rest of my life.) But he's awfully easy to spend time with, and he keeps the movie on an even keel, only occasionally blowing his top. I wish he'd taken more chances, though, played up the ethnic angle after all, or gone a little crazier. Of course, he already remade The Heartbreak Kid with Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers, so it's not like he's running away from his ethnic heritage. And it's the Farrelly brothers who decided that he works best as a jittery everyman, the guy who holds back a scream as the world veers wildly off course.