Like the 1972 Elaine May classic that inspired it, the Farrelly Brothers' remake of "The Heartbreak Kid" is the story of a guy who gets married, regrets it and falls in love with another woman while on his honeymoon. That, more or less, is where the similarities end. But why get bogged down in comparisons, when the new "Heartbreak Kid" stands entirely on its own merits as a grim, shrill, deluded and incredibly depressing movie, so bewilderingly mean-spirited that the trademark Farrelly Brothers gross-out scenes feel like the sweetest.
Perhaps the only reason to compare May's film to the Farrellys' is that a side-by-side comparison seems to sum up the difference between American comedy 30 years ago and what we've come to now. In the original, Charles Grodin plays a self-loathing Jewish guy from New York who ditches his wife on their honeymoon when he meets a Minnesota Valkyrie by the name of Kelly Corcoran (Cybill Shepherd). "Of course a girl like you would have a name like Kelly Corcoran," he tells her, underscoring his shallow jerkiness. In the remake, Ben Stiller plays a non-denominational guy who gets tricked into marrying a model-gorgeous, scrunchy-nosed, nonthreatening do-gooder whose pre-wedding geisha mien inexplicably morphs into a catalog of grotesque gynophobic horrors the moment they leave for the honeymoon -- completely justifying his decision to ditch her for a different model-gorgeous girl he meets while on their honeymoon. See the difference?
Sure, in the 1970s, a person (a woman, even!) could make a dark satire about a jerky guy who does the horribly wrong thing, derailing his life and breaking his wife's heart in the pursuit of an illusion. One could even go so far as to suggest that a comeuppance was headed his way for not being careful what he wished for. But focus tests have proved that people hate stuff like themes and moral ambiguity and ambiguous endings, and, clearly, Ben Stiller doesn't want to play the heavy.
Stiller not wanting to play the heavy, though, presents a problem, premise- and story-wise. It removes them. It took five screenwriters to excise all traces of humanity and character-based comedy from the Neil Simon screenplay (based on a short story by the brilliant satirist Bruce Jay Friedman) and replace them with jokes about objects going in or coming out of nostrils. Actually, the jokes about objects going in and coming out of nostrils are limited to three, and they're among the kinder, gentler moments of the movie. What really fills the void are the hate jokes.
Stiller plays Eddie Cantrow, the owner of a San Francisco sporting goods store who, at 40, has never married, much to the dismay of his dad Doc (Jerry Stiller) and his friend Mac (Rob Corddry). Doc and Mac are single-minded in their determination to marry off Eddie. In fact, they talk about nothing else. It's not entirely clear why.
The widowed Doc is contentedly spending his twilight years in Vegas, sharing hot tubs with freak-show breasted biddies. Mac, meanwhile, views marriage like a life sentence in a secret prison not subject to the rules of the Geneva Convention -- which, in his case, is exactly what it is. His hideous harpy of a wife has broken and reprogrammed him. The moment she gets her period, she commands him to go out and get her maxi-pads (yes, maxi-pads, the better to go with the Eisenhower-era joke), as women, you know, always do.
Eddie meets Lila (Malin Akerman, who looks and sounds uncannily like Cameron Diaz) after he tries to save her from a mugger. An angel in fleece jackets, she works as an environmental researcher and oozes sweetness and light from every pore. When Eddie is too chicken to ask for her number, she tracks him down at the store, downplays her intelligence when he frets that her job makes her sound smart, and puts off sex for as long as she can. Six weeks later she tricks him into marrying her, and off to Cabo they go.
It doesn't take long for Eddie to realize that he's made a colossal mistake. The evidence starts piling up from the moment they hit the road. Lila sings along to all the songs on the radio, eats like a pig, has sex like a pro. Somehow, during their six-week Bay Area idyll, Eddie failed to notice that she was dumb, crazy, clingy, boring, broke, slutty and possessed of a terrifyingly unkempt pudendum. Even more horribly, in the time it takes to drive from the Bay Area to Baja, California, she magically transforms from a crunchy, San Francisco bike-rider into a trashy Donatella Versace clone, all leather pants, animal print shirts and piles of gold chains. Where did they come from? Who cares? The important thing is -- poor Eddie! His hot chick is way psycho, just like in that old Onion headline! But one good thing comes out of her shortcomings: They give Eddie license to fall in love with the first other woman he sees.