Some marriages, as the divorce statistics demonstrate all too clearly, seem doomed to fail. That’s certainly the case with the wedding between commitophobe Eddie Cantrow (Ben Stiller), a San Francisco sports shop owner, and blonde bombshell Lila (Malin Akerman) that’s the centerpiece of this movie from the Farrelly brothers (“There’s Something About Mary,” “Dumb and Dumber”). But it’s even more true of the attempt that “The Heartbreak Kid” represents to meld the Farrellys’ coarse, slapsticky style with the more subtle, bittersweet approach that Neil Simon and Elaine May took to the material in the original movie of 1972 on which this one is very loosely based. The result is a marriage definitely not made in heaven, and a picture that’s a disheartening commentary on the decline in the standards of American comedy over the last quarter-century.
It would probably have been a bad idea for the Farrellys to take on the job of remaking May’s film under any circumstances, but what’s remarkable is how they and their collaborators have taken virtually every wrong step imaginable in refashioning the story for the sub-adolescent tastes of a contemporary audience. In the original, Charles Grodin played Lenny, a schlub newly wed to an enthusiastic middle-class Jewish girl, who is struck with infatuation for a golden-haired WASP beauty (Cybill Shepherd) he encounters during the honeymoon. His mania for her (and everything she represents, of course) becomes an overriding obsession that leads to decisions that are bleakly destructive and acutely embarrassing—and in a dark way, very funny.
Here, though, Eddie is a sad-sack guy who’s just seen his long-time girlfriend wed another suitor when he literally bumps into the luscious Lila, and after some obligatory comic delays (involving her panties, no less) asks her to marry him. Trouble arises quickly on their honeymoon trip to Mexico, when he discovers that the gorgeous gal is an irritating bundle of personal quirks and physical problems, and that’s she’s a jobless former cocaine addict to boot. (The wedding ceremony had already revealed that she has—horror of horrors!—a grotesquely obese mother that she’ll probably eventually grow to resemble.) Fortunately her indisposition due to a bad case of sunburn gives Eddie the opportunity to meet down-to-earth Miranda (Michelle Monaghan), who’s visiting the vacation spot for a family reunion. They hit it off, and before long Eddie’s decided to leave Lila and go for Miranda instead. Naturally there are all sorts of complications to this mad plan, mostly involving rumors that begin to circulate about him and the hostility of Miranda’s cousin Martin (Danny McBride).
You can see why the Farrellys and their cohorts have changed the set-up so radically: recasting Lila into the pretty face from hell gives them the chance to indulge in the crude gags for which they’ve become famous—she won’t stop singing along to the radio, spews liquids out of her deviated septum, proves dumb as a rock, turns into a complete shrew, and so on. (It’s amazing that Eddie’s supposed to have noticed none of this during the six weeks they were dating.) But since the material about Lila is so lame—and Akerman so shrill in delivering it—it all seems a refried version of the sort of thing the brothers have peddled before—lumpy, laughless leftovers.
Unfortunately, the material centering on Eddie, Miranda and her family is, if anything, even worse. Stiller can work wonders when he’s in extravagant mode, but playing a regular guy (as here and even in “Meet the Parents”) he’s a drab, colorless fellow, and Monaghan’s even duller. As for her relatives, what can you do with a nearly-comatose grandfather, a pair of blandly southern parents and—worst of all—that mean-spirited cousin so ineptly played by McBride that it seems hardly the work of a professional actor?
The graceless “grace notes” of the script take it to further depths. Jerry Stiller appears as Eddie’s father, doing a “dirty old man” routine that’s meant to be hilarious in the “isn’t that foul-mouthed geezer a riot?” fashion that’s so commonplace today but is positively revolting. Rob Corddry, from “The Daily Show,” is Eddie’s henpecked best buddy—about whom all one can say is that if Cantrow so quickly tired of Lila, surely he would have dumped this thoughtless boob years ago. There’s also a set of hormonal young twins (Michael and Nicholas Kronka) who spew gay-bashing asides (a motif that runs through the entirely sorry enterprise). And, to top it all off, Carlos Mencia shows up as a randy waiter at the hotel who becomes Eddie’s enabler: his material is supposed to be gut-busting but manages instead to be both offensive and incredibly unfunny, and the threat that he’s going to reappear every few minutes casts a pall over every scene. The miscalculation extends to the physical production: the movie might have been shot in attractive locales, but Matthew Leonetti’s cinematography doesn’t do them justice, and overall it has a slightly tacky look.
“The Heartbreak Kid” is a major misfire. The premise was already a sour one in 1972, but May and her cast managed to treat it with enough off-kilter wit that it remained palatable. By going for crudity and gross-out gags instead, the Farrellys have made it simply indigestible. And as for their big final joke about wincing, it’s an absolute groaner, but a telling one—because this is the sort of misbegotten comedy that won’t just make you wince, but grimace.