The Heartbreak Kid

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It’s been nearly a decade since Bobby and Peter Farrelly made gross-out history with “There’s Something About Mary,” and with little in the way of success since then (“Fever Pitch,” anyone?), it’s no wonder they’ve tried to recapture the magic by casting Ben Stiller as the lead in “The Heartbreak Kid,” opposite an actress who looks and sounds like Cameron Diaz. If they could have found a way to re-create the hair-gel scene, you know they would have.

“The Heartbreak Kid” seems a little desperate in that way. You can feel it trying really hard to be transgressive and dirty. “Please be shocked into fits of laughter by our impish rudeness!” the brothers seem to say. “Please forget the other, better R-rated comedies you’ve seen this year!”

A remake of the 1972 Neil Simon-written film, “Heartbreak” has Stiller playing Eddie Cantrow, a 40-year-old San Francisco sporting-goods-store owner who has been hesitant to approach marriage ever since his fiancee dumped him five years ago. His randy old father (real-life dad Jerry Stiller) gives him grief about it, as does his whipped married friend Mac (Rob Corddry). And if you were paying attention to that last sentence, you can mark off “Foul-Mouthed Old Man” and “Married Friend Who Hates Being Married” on your Generic Comedy Characters bingo card.

Then Eddie meets Lila (Diaz knockoff Malin Akerman), a beautiful blond environmental researcher who dresses like she’s been digging in the trash behind a thrift store. They have a whirlwind romance and after just six weeks get married and drive down to Cabo San Lucas for a honeymoon. They are happy and in love! Or so they think.

Lila immediately begins to annoy him. She sings along to every song on the radio. (What, they’d never been in a car together before?) Her financial situation is a mess. (What, they never talked about finances before the wedding?) She is sexually voracious, aggressive, and kinky. (What, they … never mind.) She proves to be stubborn, imbecilic, and vulgar. That whirlwind romance was six weeks long, but evidently they never actually spent any time together during it, or surely Eddie would have had an inkling of her strange ways.

On the beach at Cabo, he meets Miranda (Michelle Monaghan), a lovely and smart woman who doesn’t know he’s married, much less that he’s on his honeymoon. Lila is decommissioned by a nasty sunburn (her own fault), leaving Eddie free to wander the shores and spend time with his new pal and her extended family, who are in Cabo for a reunion. Miranda’s cousins and aunts and uncles adore Eddie. He likes them. He likes Miranda, too.

At first Eddie’s failure to tell Miranda of his marital status is a reasonable comedy device: He keeps trying to bring it up, and he keeps getting interrupted by something. But then his behavior shifts and he starts actively lying, both to Miranda and to Lila back in the hotel room. Now he’s no longer a hapless victim of circumstance; he’s just a lout.

It’s a lazy twist in his character, necessitated by the five credited screenwriters’ inability to get him out of the corners they’ve painted him into by any other means. The audience is enjoying the ride, more or less, and looking forward to seeing how everything is resolved. And then the writers give up and don’t even try.

Hmm. This review is turning very negative. I should emphasize that I did laugh quite a bit, particularly in the film’s first half. Stiller is in his element as a quasi-loser to whom bad things keep happening, and his dad and Corddry, while playing one-note characters, play them with enthusiasm. Gotta give credit to Malin Akerman, too, who is unafraid to behave in a humiliating, hilarious manner, and goes topless to boot.

Like almost every Farrelly movie, though, this one feels much longer than it ought to be, and it never really builds any comic momentum. Timing is not the Farrellys’ forte: Nearly everything that made me laugh was a one-liner or a stand-alone bit, unaffected by matters of timing. It’s an average movie, punctuated by funny moments.

C+ (1 hr., 55 min.; R, a lot of harsh profanity and vulgar dialogue, a couple fairly graphic (albeit comic) sex scenes, some nudity.)

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