Stiller’s Latest Is a Pointless Heartbreak
He may be one of the most overexposed comic actors of the last 10 years, but Ben Stiller is still a talented guy.
Take, for example, The Heartbreak Kid: The film is an unnecessary remake of a Neil Simon screenplay. Despite that fact, it boasts no less than five people on its writing team, none of whom acquit themselves very well. Finally, it gives a beefy supporting role to comedy sponge Carlos Mencia as – wait for it – an awful Mexican stereotype (pause, when you get a second, to appreciate that level of creativity).
But then there’s Stiller, and for all the predictability of his performance, and my personal fatigue at having seen him in two movies a week for the past decade, he still comes across as likeable.
Considering this nonentity of a movie, that’s at least something to take note of. As fun as some of his wackier characters have been over the years, Stiller does his best work as the straight man (see his all-too-brief turn as Larry David’s foil on “Curb Your Enthusiasm”). So he is in The Heartbreak Kid, a cautionary tale for bachelors from Bobby and Peter “There’s No Such Thing As Trying Too Hard” Farrelly.
Stiller plays Eddie, an unmarried 40-year-old with alarming salt-and-pepper hair who owns a sporting goods store in San Francisco. Roundly shamed for his perpetual single status, Eddie rushes through a six-week courtship with lilting beauty Lila (Malin Akerman). Twenty minutes into the film, the new couple is headed for a honeymoon in Cabo, where the rest of the story unfolds.
Soon enough, it’s revealed that Lila has pulled a Jekyl-and-Hyde act on poor Eddie – turns out she’s a lunatic with an annoying singing voice, an inconveniently deviated septum and no real income. This is exacerbated by a meeting with cute Miranda (the lovely Michelle Monaghan), with whom Eddie falls madly in love (for real this time). The film goes on from there, hitting all the notes you might expect.
Also, it’s a Farrelly Brothers movie, so expect it to go places in search of laughs no normal movie would. Even after all these years, the duo is still enamored of grotesquery in a way that is nowhere near healthy. But anyone who saw 2003’s Stuck on You, or the odious Shallow Hal before it, could probably tell you it’s an aesthetic that hasn’t aged well. The Heartbreak Kid has the requisite “ick” moments that might leave you slack-jawed in disbelief, but they likely won’t leave you laughing. To say the least, the gross-out thing isn’t nearly as charming as it was in Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary.
The Heartbreak Kid, surprisingly enough, does have a few decent gags. Putting aside the uglier aspects of the film (the absolutely awful Jerry Stiller character, and the aforementioned Mencia hackery) much of its cast is strong. Miranda is easy to fall in love with, and there’s at least one good supporting character in “Daily Show” alum Rob Corddry. Most of the laughs, however, come courtesy of Lila. She’s both painfully irritating and endearing, and Akerman proves a strong enough comic actor to win the audience over in the end.
My general rule with purposefully stupid film comedies like this is simple enough: If I’m not laughing within the first few minutes, it’s hard to win me back. Ten minutes into The Heartbreak Kid I started checking my watch, but to my surprise, the film sneaks a few chuckles in around the middle – welcome ones since they came long after I’d given up the prospect of being entertained – which is, I guess, a charitable enough thing to say about a movie I didn’t particularly care for (I’m in a good mood, so here’s another one: the soundtrack is excellent). The Farrellys have made a few good comedies, but their formula gets weaker with repeat applications. The Heartbreak Kid is probably the strongest film left in their bag of tricks, but in truth, you’re likely better off re-watching There’s Something About Mary and remembering a time when you weren’t even a little bit sick of Ben Stiller.
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