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The Heartbreak Kid

Movie Review


Published October 10, 2007 at 6:15 p.m.

Global warming gets all the press, but another large-scale shift has been in the works for decades now, one that also has dramatic implications for the modern world. The world of entertainment, at any rate.

Studies confirming the existence of the crisis have yet to be released by the scientific community, but the problem is undeniable: We're on the verge of a national — perhaps even worldwide — original screenplay shortage. The supply is shrinking faster than the polar ice cap, even as film schools turn out new directors, cinematographers and gaffers in record numbers.

The result is an epidemic of remakes that, ironically, is unlike anything the world has seen before. With Hollywood running desperately low on new ideas, even as it shoulders the burden of entertaining an ever larger international audience, a steady stream of retreads appears to be the industry's sole strategy.

Rollerball, Walking Tall, The Longest Yard, Planet of the Apes, Shaft, Alfie, Mr. Deeds, The Stepford Wives, The Omen, Poseidon, The Wicker Man, The Invasion, Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (we're at one remake, three sequels, a prequel and counting) — the list just keeps getting longer. And to it we now add an update of the 1972 Charles Grodin comedy The Heartbreak Kid.

Peter and Bobby Farrelly reunite with Ben Stiller, presumably intending to duplicate the combination of raunch and sweetness that made There's Something About Mary a career high point for all involved. They succeed to a degree. The filmmakers even managed to find a Cameron Diaz clone (Malin Akerman) to play the female lead.

Stiller stars as a San Francisco bachelor whose lecherous old man (real-life dad Jerry Stiller) and hen-pecked best friend (Rob Corddry) pressure him to settle down. A few weeks after a chance encounter with a beautiful, vivacious blonde, Stiller finally does tie the knot, and heads to Cabo for his honeymoon. At this point, the picture's core joke kicks in: One shocking revelation at a time, the groom comes to realize his bride is not the woman he thought he married.

The Farrellys have a field day with the gimmick. Akerman's character, it turns out, has more baggage than O'Hare International Airport. She has a deviated septum from years of snorting blow. She's tens of thousands of dollars in debt to dealers. In the marital bed, she makes your average porn star look positively Amish. To top it off, she's moody and delusional.

So we are not surprised when, after a sunburn confines Akerman to bed, the reeling husband meets an attractive, well-adjusted young woman staying at the same hotel with her family (Michelle Monaghan) and falls instantly in love. The excuses he concocts to explain ever-longer absences to his blistered bride are almost as entertaining as his eventual attempts to tell her the truth — and, in the end, the movie does provide a couple hours of solid Farrelly fun.

The question isn't: Will you have a decent time? It's: What does any of this have to do with The Heartbreak Kid? Written by Neil Simon and directed by Elaine May, the original earned its place in film history by offering a groundbreaking rumination on ethnicity and the American class system. Sure, it was a comedy, but like The Graduate and Goodbye, Columbus, it was a comedy with thoughtful social undercurrents. I haven't seen the movie in a while, but I'm pretty sure there's nothing in Simon's script about pubic wigs or donkey shows.

I raise the question by way of drawing attention to a further threat. More and more, these updates bear minimal resemblance to the films on which they're purportedly based — beyond a highly marketable title and an obligatory hint of the source material's premise. Pay the Farrellys to riff on The Heartbreak Kid, and what's next — Michael Bay re-imagining Ben Hur, Tim Burton giving us a musical version of Dr. Strangelove, or Rob Zombie staging an all-cyborg Gone With the Wind?

It's one thing to run out of fresh movie ideas, but these days it seems the folks in Hollywood can't even remake them like they used to.

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