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ON THE SET : fall sneaks

Anything for a laugh

To make the type of raucous comedy they are known for, Bobby and Peter Farrelly cultivate a loose, lowbrow atmosphere.

September 09, 2007|Jay A. Fernandez | Special to The Times

The rugby shirt has a crest on its left breast pocket that depicts a rooster over the letters M and E.
You know it's meant to be funny because half a dozen people -- including Peter and Bobby Farrelly, the Mayors of Funny -- stand around the movie set with expectant grins on their faces waiting for the glorious moment when you get just how hilarious it is. Crew members glance over, smirking. Producer Bradley Thomas ripples the shirt a little for encouragement. C'mon . . .
And. . . no. Don't get it. Not yet, anyway.
Which is just fine with them because if any two guys have confidence in knowing precisely what is funny -- and why -- it's the guys behind "Dumb and Dumber," "Kingpin" and "Stuck on You."
As it later turns out, the shirt -- a cast-and-crew-only marketing brainstorm spawned just the day before -- says everything you need to know about the tone of the Farrellys' new film, a bawdy remake of "The Heartbreak Kid." But it will be awhile before that is made clear. Both writer-directors describe with evident pride how this latest filmic escapade represents a return to the raucous, hard-R humor of "There's Something About Mary," their $176-million breakout nine years ago.

To underline the point, "Mary" star Ben Stiller is back on hand as sympathetic court jester in the kind of role he's since trademarked. Friends of the Farrellys once again dapple the crew. Everyone's smiling. The set is suffused with a low-grade glow, as if everybody's in on one great private dirty joke. Even Steven Spielberg has been spotted on the Universal soundstage a few times, watching the filming and giggling discreetly.

"Every day's a good day," says Bobby.

Though Neil Simon wrote the screenplay for the original 35 years ago, the updated "Kid" story line smells like vintage Farrellys. Forty-year-old Eddie (Stiller) meets Lila (Malin Akerman) at an ex-girlfriend's wedding, dates her for six weeks -- during which she requests a demure sex ban -- and then marries her. Once they've flown off to Cabo San Lucas for their honeymoon, Lila abruptly transforms from a shrinking violet into a Penis Fly Trap, a sexually voracious nut case with a hilariously combative seduction style and a neediness that borders on psychosis. When a run-in with scorching sunburn imprisons her in the hotel, Eddie stumbles out into the vacation paradise alone and ends up falling for Miranda (Michelle Monaghan), who's vacationing with her family.

Complications, as they say, ensue, with comedy free agents Carlos Mencia, Rob Corddry, Danny McBride, Jerry Stiller and Johnny Sneed on hand to amp up the laugh quotient. DreamWorks Pictures is releasing the film Oct. 5 as a pointed antidote to the meaty, self-serious Oscar films of the fall season.

The original "Heartbreak Kid," adapted by Simon from a story by Bruce Jay Friedman, was directed by Elaine May in 1972. Leslie Dixon ("Mrs. Doubtfire") and Scot Armstrong ("Old School") wrote early drafts of this updated version, until Kevin Barnett, a longtime assistant-cum-development exec at the Farrellys' Conundrum Entertainment, co-wrote the raunchy shooting script with the brothers. Stiller's regular punch-up man, John Hamburg ("Zoolander," "Meet the Parents"), also came on to incorporate some of the actor's ideas.

On a mild mid-November afternoon, the production is in the midst of its longest shooting day, its last in L.A. (After Thanksgiving break, they all would head to Mexico for the last three weeks of filming.) Cast and crew work around a Midwestern bedroom set in preparation for the 24 setups they need to nail this day's scene.

Stiller suddenly materializes looking like he's just been let out of four years in solitary confinement. His hair and beard are gray-white and bushy. His shirt and cutoff shorts are ragged. He's the physical embodiment of the guy crawling through the desert in all those classic New Yorker cartoons.

There's a reason for this. After Miranda finds out Eddie is married, she heads back to her home in Mississippi, with Eddie in typically mishap-heavy pursuit (deportation, border crossings, beatings -- hence the beard). In a classic Farrellys setup, Eddie rises from nowhere out of the dark by her bed (which also holds her new, sleeping husband, Cal) and declares his love in a tortured, clumsy whisper. Suddenly, Miranda's brother Martin (McBride) swoops in and cracks Eddie across the back with a bat. Cal (Sneed) shoots up in bed with a shrill scream, and Eddie's protective dad (Jerry Stiller), who has accompanied him, rushes in with violence on his mind.

"The heart wants what it wants," croaks a balled-up Stiller in take after take, as he writhes in the corner amid the chaos (a sly reference to Woody Allen's famous explanation for his affair with Soon-Yi).

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