Bobby and Peter Farrelly have a reputation for writing and directing films that are grossly, outrageously funny, movies like “There’s Something About Mary” and “Dumb & Dumber.” They break taboos, they push the envelope, yada yada yada.
Their latest, “Shallow Hal,” is a bit of a departure, and a disappointment. Despite its potential for crudeness — a man falls in love with an obese woman because he sees her inner beauty — it has only a few moments of Farrelly-esque outrageousness.
This is allowable, of course; filmmakers are permitted to change genres if they want to. I would rather they go whole hog and make all the fat jokes in the world, because I rather like that style, where’s it so audacious, you can’t help but laugh. But if Bobby and Peter want to be a little more gentle and touchy-feely, they are well within their rights. I just think they need to do a better job of it.
The focus is on regular ol’ non-offensive comedy here, which is fine, except that it doesn’t focus on it enough. Too much time is wasted trying to make us feel sympathy for characters who should be, by all rights, one-dimensional jokes, the way God intended them. The Farrellys try to get serious on us, and it doesn’t work, because they’re not very good at it.
Jack Black plays the title character, a ridiculously superficial moron who seeks only “perfect” women, despite his own physical flaws, which are many. Then he gets trapped in an elevator with motivational speaker Tony Robbins, who hypnotizes him into seeing people as they are on the inside. Ugly women now look good to Hal, and his equally shallow friend Mauricio (Jason Alexander, in the world’s worst toupee) is at a loss to explain why his pal’s tastes have suddenly taken a turn for the worse.
Black is one of our favorite hip, ironic young actors, but “Shallow Hal” teaches us something we hadn’t considered before: He’s best in supporting roles. His fun quotient is spread too thin in a lead. If he has depth and range, he is not showing it here, acting a one-note character in a movie that wants to have more notes.
Gwyneth Paltrow plays Rosemary, the fat woman Hal falls in love with. Most of the time, we see her the way he does — as the thin Gwyneth we know and love. (Fat suits are used to show us how Rosemary really looks.) Paltrow is the closest the movie comes to a character we care about.
By the movie’s logic, beautiful woman who are bad people should look ugly to Hal, but that only holds true in one instance. If you’re going to use a high concept like this, you’d better stick with it, or at least explain why you’re following your own rules haphazardly.
Tony Robbins is great in his cameo, and Jason Alexander gets off some good lines. But the movie is AT LEAST a half-hour too long, and its middle section drags insufferably. One thing the Farrellys have never been good at is writing a tight script — “There’s Something About Mary” was too long, too, you may recall — and that fault has never been more painfully clear than in “Shallow Hal.” Timing is everything in comedy, and this one has no idea where it’s going half the time. Sometimes, it doesn’t even remember it’s a comedy.
C- (; )