Remember when Ben Stiller was funny?
I thought I did. I mean, I had fond memories of “The Ben Stiller Show” and his performance in “There’s Something About Mary,” but further examination led me to realize the highlights from Stiller’s eponymous TV program were usually variations on the same exaggerated impressions (and he didn’t write hardly any of it anyway), and “Mary” loses something of its luster when you see him playing the same stammering dolt in a couple dozen other movies throughout the last decade and a half.
Stiller and the Farrelly brothers reunite for “The Heartbreak Kid,” a remake of the 1972 Neil Simon film starring Charles Grodin and Cybill Shepherd. I haven’t seen the original, but it’s probably a safe bet that Simon didn’t rely on pubic hair gags and jokes about sex with donkeys to make his point.
The plot of each movie is largely identical: perennial bachelor Eddie Cantrow (Stiller) meets an apparently perfect woman in the form of Lila (Malin Akerman). Under pressure from his best friend and father (Rob Corddry and Stiller’s father Jerry, respectively), Eddie decides to head off Lila’s imminent move overseas by marrying her. Seemingly happy at last, he heads south of the border with his new bride for the honeymoon.
Unsurprisingly, Eddie’s marriage to a woman he’s known for less than two months rapidly begins to unravel. Lila is not only vulgar and obnoxious, but she has a past that can charitably be described as “checkered.” Eddie understandably begins to have second thoughts, with possible salvation arriving in the form of Miranda (an undeniably cute-as-hell Michelle Monaghan), a free spirit spending the weekend with her family. Miranda is everything Lila isn’t, and Eddie finds himself falling for her, even as Lila sulks sunburned in their room.
“The Heartbreak Kid” is better than I expected, but since I expected it to be a horrific failure, that isn’t saying much. Part of the problem is that the Farrellys play the first half of the movie pretty straight. I’ll go on record as saying that “Kingpin” is one of my favorite comedies, and maybe if their latest contained more of that anarchic sense of “anything goes” it’d be more successful, but the weirdness doesn’t come into play until far too late here, and it ends up feeling more out of place than anything else. What’s left is a story more suited to a network TV sitcom than a supposedly edgy theatrical comedy.
The tasteless bits are equally stale: Eddie’s dad is a h***y senior citizen who offers to take his son to Vegas and double-team some w****s? Hilarious. His best friend is trapped in a marriage to a pitiless harpy? Where have I seen that before? And is that notorious joke thief Carlos Mencia as a shady resort employee?
Stiller has settled so comfortably into his perennial role as put-upon Everyman there’s really no need for him to ever stretch himself again. Each role is more painfully unfunny than the last, and appropriately enough, “The Heartbreak Kid” – a couple of guffaws aside – is a laughless riot.