The Heartbreak Kid ***

Posted: October 05, 2007

In The Heartbreak Kid, the Farrelly Brothers get their hands - and their penchant for bodily fluids - on a dark and beloved marital comedy classic, one that film critic Vincent Canby, back in 1972, likened enthusiastically to The Graduate.

The results are, not surprisingly, gross, profane, full of yuck-o gags and a frenzied round of sexual gymnastics that leaves one of its participants - honeymooning husband Eddie Cantrow (Ben Stiller) - curled in a ball, quaking in fear.

But like the best Farrelly fare - namely, There's Something About Mary - the underlying sentiment is almost sappily sweet.

Adapted from the Neil Simon-scripted, Elaine May-directed original (which was based on a short story by Bruce Jay Friedman), The Heartbreak Kid is about a guy who heads off on his honeymoon and proceeds to fall in love - with a woman who is not his bride. In the original, with Charles Grodin and Jeannie Berlin (May's daughter) as the newlyweds, and Cybill Shepherd as the girl of Eddie's dreams, the cultural disconnect between New York Jews and all-American WASPs provided an angsty backdrop for the mixed-up romance.

Writing/directing siblings Bobby and Peter Farrelly have jettisoned all that, relocating things to the West Coast and seemingly giving sad-sack bachelor Eddie the ideal woman right off the bat. Lila (the Cameron Diaz-ish Malin Akerman) is a leggy blond environmental researcher. They meet, they court, vows are recited, and off they go to Mexico, wailing merrily to the car radio. Eddie, who owns a sporting-goods store, can't believe his luck.

And, uh-oh, the first glimmers that the girl of his dreams might really be a nightmare begin to show. "It's like the moment we got married a switch went off," Eddie says, not exactly sure what he's doing with the heavily-in-debt, jobless, sex-crazed ex-cokehead he's sharing his honeymoon suite with.

And so, when Lila sunburns herself into a blistering crisp and goes off to convalesce in her room, Eddie wanders out and meets Miranda (Michelle Monaghan), a wisecracking Oxford, Miss., lacrosse coach, at the resort for a family reunion. One thing leads to another - and misleads to another - as Eddie and Miranda hit it off, but Eddie can't quite get out the important piece of information that he's here on his honeymoon.

Stiller brings his squinty-eyed, neurotic intensity to the proceedings - and brings his dad, Jerry Stiller, along, too. The elder Stiller, sporting wild red hair and a wildly raunchy vocabulary, is part of a stand-up gang doing their thing in supporting roles: Rob Corddry is Eddie's henpecked best friend, Carlos Mencia is the jokey resort concierge. Akerman displays comic chops, too, as her character's flaws - and deviated septum, and body-piercing - become exposed. If Monaghan, down-to-earth and sexily sardonic, is required to pose for one too many agog-and-aghast reaction shots, she obliges gamely nonetheless.

Rude, lewd, crude, with sideways satiric jabs at the expense of gays, blacks, Latinos and Southerners, The Heartbreak Kid still manages to explore the institution of marriage in a kind of meaningful way. The Farrellys manage to have their cake and scarf it down, disgustingly, too.


The Heartbreak Kid *** (Out of four stars)

Directed by Bobby and Peter Farrelly. With Ben Stiller, Malin Akerman and Michelle Monaghan. Distributed by DreamWorks Pictures.

Running time: 1 hour, 56 mins.

Parent's guide: R (sex, nudity, gross humor, profanity, adult themes)

Playing at: Area theaters


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews. com. Read his blog, "On Movies On- line," at http://go.philly.com/onmovies.

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