'The Heartbreak Kid': Been There, By Kurt Loder

Some chuckles, some laughs, Ben Stiller at his most likable — and yet ...

The Farrelly brothers' new movie demonstrates that the onetime masters of gross, dumb fun have been eclipsed by Judd Apatow, whose signature films — "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "Knocked Up" — are just as gross, not as dumb, and, in this case, rather more fun.

"The Heartbreak Kid" is a by-the-numbers romantic comedy whose every familiar plot contortion is easily predicted well before it occurs. The hero, stuck with the wrong girl, belatedly meets the right girl and sets out, against all odds, to win her. Family and friends stand in his way. A Big Misunderstanding complicates things, then complicates things further. In the end, love wins out (sort of). In essence, this is a picture that could have been made 20 years ago. (In fact, the original version was made 35 years ago, by director Elaine May.) True, the Farrellys inject their trademark raunch — passing jests about boobs and bestiality, and a sight gag about a crotch piercing that immediately recalls a similarly-aimed shot in "Knocked Up." But while the movie stimulates quite a few chuckles and a handful of hearty laughs, it offers no surprises.

Eddie Cantrow (Ben Stiller) is the owner of a San Francisco sporting-goods store. Because of a deep-rooted commitment problem, he's still single at age 40. His randy dad (Jerry Stiller) and a married buddy named Mac (Rob Corddry) won't get off his case about getting serious. Finally, he has a meet-cute encounter with a gorgeous blonde named Lila (Malin Akerman). She's perfect — has an admirable job as an "environmental researcher," doesn't want to rush into a sexual relationship (i.e., she's not a slut). After six weeks of dating (encapsulated in a traditional falling-in-love montage), they get married. Then, driving down to Cabo San Lucas for a Mexican honeymoon, the nightmare begins.

As Lila punches around the car-radio dial, Eddie realizes she loves every kind of music he hates, and won't be stopped from braying along with the songs. Soon he learns that she's into scary-rough sex, too, and has a deviated septum from an old cocaine habit that causes food, drink and occasional other things to spew from her nose.

On their first day at the beach, Lila sustains a brutal sunburn and retreats to their hotel suite in suppurating pain. Left to his own devices, Eddie wanders around the resort and meets another girl, Miranda (Michelle Monaghan), who's in Cabo on an annual excursion with her family. Miranda is smart, funny, pretty — in short, perfect — and Eddie immediately realizes he's married the wrong woman. Calling home for advice from his dad and buddy Mac, he's told to banish this notion. With Lila still out of commission, though, Eddie continues hanging out with Miranda. He meets her family, too — and arouses the instant enmity of her hick cousin, Martin (Danny R. McBride), who finds Eddie to be a very suspicious character. His suspicion is soon proved to be well-founded.

You can imagine what happens next — really, you pretty much can. Lila blows up, steals Eddie's passport and storms off back to San Francisco. Miranda, appalled by his deception, flees home, too. Love-struck Eddie determines to follow her, but without a passport he's forced to try to sneak across the border with other illegal immigrants. In another montage, we see him getting busted by border police — not just once, but over and over. This makes no sense. Eddie is very clearly an American; why isn't he able to explain his situation to immigration officials? (For that matter, why doesn't he just go to the nearest U.S. consulate?)

The story sits uneasily upon the narrative bones of the original "Heartbreak Kid." That picture had a strong Jewish subtext: The Eddie character, named Lenny, was unlikably faithless, a man in love with the chase, not with whatever woman happened to be its object; and the blonde in the story wasn't the new bride, but the girl he pursued, an emotionally vacant shiksa. The movie had dark undertones. Here, though, Eddie is played by Ben Stiller at his most likable, and his mismatch with Lila seems as if it might indeed have been just a lapse in judgment, not a sign of any more-unsavory psychological problem. And as Miranda, Michelle Monaghan has a knowing, Linda Fiorentino-like intelligence that makes her seem an unlikely candidate to fall for Eddie's strange story to the extent that she comes back for another round in the end. (The movie's final scene hints at the more troubling theme of the original "Heartbreak Kid," but here there's been no preparation, and it leaves a small, sour aftertaste.)

The picture looks good — it has a balmy tropical glow in the Cabo scenes — and the cast navigates the rom-com scenario with cheery aplomb (apart from Carlos Mencia, whose stereotypical turn as a jolly Mexican seems to have been inspired by old Cheech & Chong movies). The story feels out of joint, though, and it's hard to imagine what even Judd Apatow might have made of it. But then he doesn't direct remakes.

("The Heartbreak Kid" is a DreamWorks Pictures release. DreamWorks and MTV are both subsidiaries of Viacom.)

Read Kurt Loder's review of "Lust, Caution," also new in theaters this week.

Check out everything we've got on "The Heartbreak Kid."

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