The Farrelly brothers (“Dumb And Dumber”) and Ben Stiller (“Meet The Parents”) have been involved in some of the most beloved comedies of the last fifteen years. Their first film together, 1998’s “There’s Something About Mary,” proved to be the pinnacle of their respective careers — at least in terms of quality. Nine years later, the trio has reunited for a remake of the 1972 film, “The Heartbreak Kid.”
The story follows Eddie Cantrow (Ben Stiller), a 40-year-old bachelor who remains hesitant to make the commitment despite pressure from his father (Jerry Stiller) and best friend (Robert Corddry). One day he bumps into Lila (Malin Akerman) and they immediately hit it off, causing him to hastily conclude she must be the one. On their honeymoon, he quickly doubts the decision after he discovers his wife to be a completely different person. Matters are further complicated when he falls for the unknowing Miranda (Michelle Monaghan) at the hotel, leaving him torn between ending his short marriage or letting this new love get away.
Stiller brings his easygoing and likeable personality to the film but never strays from the familiar string of characters he has built his career upon. Despite providing a few funny moments — an improvement after the flat “Night At The Museum” — there is nothing remarkable to make this turn differentiate. At the forefront of this predicament is the character himself, who never fits any heroic archetype due to his questionable decision-making. Eddie is also not as innocent or well intentioned as some of Stiller’s past roles, and the story suffers from this lack of sentiment.
Opposite Stiller, Akerman and Monaghan are serviceable as the female leads. Akerman, who landed the role of Laurie Juspeczyk in the anticipated “Watchmen” adaptation, is charming enough in the beginning to make the set-up convincing. However, her transformation from normal to crazy fares much worse and the annoyance quickly wears thin. It’s the writing, not the acting, that is the main problem. In the end, she is unable to overcome its one-dimensionality or her appearance as a second-rate Cameron Diaz.
Monaghan isn’t given a chance to show off her acting skills as her character is also hampered by the poor writing. She displays a decent chemistry with Stiller and has learned how to play the part of the nice “girlfriend” effectively. Overall though, her character is just as shallow as everything else, with the deficiency on full display over the course of the film’s ridiculous final third.
The Farrelly brothers are well known for their over-the-top and at times raunchy humor, but one of the chief reasons their movies have worked is due to the heart and message they carry. This time around, those qualities are in short supply. There is no central character to root for — we can’t help but feel Eddie somewhat deserves what has happened to him because of his own foolishness. There also isn’t a significant theme included, and the most prevalent one — don’t rush into marriage — is discarded and played for laughs with the concluding scene.
The script, from a hodgepodge of five writers (seldom a good omen), never rises above the limitations of generic, mainstream comedy. A lot of the humor is of the physical, slapstick variety — a Farrelly Brothers staple — but falters as much as it succeeds. A prime example is the incident where Eddie is stung by a jellyfish and Lila subsequently pees on him to diminish the sting — a pointless bit neither funny nor memorable. For the rest of the film, the dialogue is rarely witty or clever, and it lacks any scene genuinely side-splitting.
“The Heartbreak Kid” fails to live up to its billing, succumbing to the trappings of a typical run-of-the-mill comedy. Most of that can be attributed to the uninspired and uncreative writing but, on the other hand, partial blame is reserved for the talent as well — the Farrelly brothers’ continuing struggle at the box office and Stiller’s struggle of finding a challenging role. Hopefully on their next collaboration, they will have learned from this mishap and will be able to strike comic gold once again.