[5 October 2007]
PopMatters Film and TV Editor
Eddie (Ben Stiller) is the sort of rom-com hero whose dad asks if he’s “crushing any pussy.” In other words, Eddie is the dullest sort of rom-com hero.
In Peter and Bobby Farrelly’s wholly unnecessary update of Elaine May’s 1972 The Heartbreak Kid, Eddie looks at his married friends (primarily Mac, played by Rob Corddry) and feels left out. He doesn’t have a girlfriend or a prospect and he’s full of boy angst about underachieving. At the same time, he doesn’t exactly yearn for marriage, because Mac’s looks dreadful. His wife Gayla (Stephanie Courtney) has a plastered-on smile and an exceedingly demanding affect, her every appearance at Mac’s side an announcement that he’s whipped. Still, given that 40-year-old Eddie’s only friends are Mac and Eddie’s oversexed dad Doc (Jerry Stiller), he’s repeatedly reminded that he is inadequate.
And then he meets Lila (Malin Akerman, trying very hard to be Cameron Diaz circa There’s Something About Mary). She’s pretty and blond, a good and eager kisser. She wears David Bowie underwear and appears smitten with Eddie and pleased enough that he owns a sporting good store in San Francisco. All in all, the perfect match, or rather, the clunky point of departure for the disaster that will be Eddie’s honeymoon in Cabo San Lucas.
It won’t come as a surprise to you that not sleeping with Lila before the wedding will have profound consequences. It also appears that—despite the exceedingly tedious smiling, kissing, and romping in the sunlight montage that marks their six-week courtship—Eddie has not a clue concerning the bride’s personality quirks. Their drive to Mexico reveals much: she sings along with every song on the radio, from Gloria Estefan to the Spice Girls; when she gets excited, she snorts out her food through her nose, owing to a deviated septum; and oh my goodness, she’s into raucous, rough sex (“Cock me! Cock me!”, etc.) By the time they arrive at the resort, Eddie is more than horrified. And then the mariachi band starts playing.
It’s predictable that the clichés trotted out by The Heartbreak Kid are offensive, given the Farrelley’s fondness for gross-out, jar-you comedy. Here again, the gags are premised on unseemly bodily functions (Lila snores) and habits (she worries that not shaving her crotch obscures her kitty ring), as well as misunderstandings (someone spreads the story that Eddie’s wife was murdered) and social faux pas. The film offers plenty of these, but a “key” plot point concerns his delivery of a porno tape for his buddy Mac to the resort’s head honcho, Uncle Tito (a profoundly unfunny Carlos Mencia), observed by the beautiful Miranda (Michelle Monaghan).
This moment marks a turn for Eddie, in the sense that he now has an option who is not Lila. Miranda is vacationing with her family, including gentle Uncle Boo (Scott Wilson) and brutish cousin Martin (Danny R. McBride), which means she’s not attached. Smart, supposedly sensible, and dark-haired, Miranda soon falls for Eddie, who neglects to inform her he’s married, a convenience allowed by Lila’s raw and bubbly sunburn. Her confinement to their honeymoon suite leaves Eddie to roam with Miranda and her clan, showing off his wit, admiring Miranda’s low-key charms, and—so that he can completely realize what he’s missing—spending an enchanting evening on the beach, discussing UFOs and smoking dope with the new girl of his dreams.
While it’s worth noting that the original film, written by Neil Simon, was similarly focused on the evolving desires of its part conniving, part hapless hero (back then, Charles Grodin), this one is more insistently mean and demeaning, especially toward girls (“Bitches be crazy, man” is a recurring comment among the boys) and background local population. Eddie is never more troubled than when he is associated with Mexicans. When he conjures a plan to have Tito deliver food to Lila (locked in the bathroom because her face is blistering), Eddie is appalled to hear that he’s not only put breakfast within her reach, but also put his penis in her hand. “It’s not right!” protests Eddie, even as Tito explains he only took the opportunity because he though Eddie would be up for it (he’s seeing another woman while on his honeymoon, after all). Suddenly the film reveals a divide between Tito and Eddie, their standards of what’s cheating and what’s abuse.
A different sort of divide appears less obviously at Eddie’s expense. When his scheming inevitably collapses, at least for a time, he lies on the beach drinking and bemoaning his fate. Encouraged to pursue Miranda despite her rejection, Eddie decides to go back home. Because he doesn’t have his papers anymore, he must secure transportation through his new best friend Tito. Thus begins a tedious border-crossing montage, in which the American with grungy beard and dirty clothing passes for “illegal,” befriending his fellow travelers and repeatedly caught and turned back by energetic border patrol agents.
It’s not that jokes can’t be made over the hypocrisies of U.S. border anxieties, or even that Ben Stiller looking worn out and battered can’t be a hilarious bit. But it’s a lazy joke, contingent on ridiculing otherness in the most insipid ways. Bitches, Mexicans, they all be crazy.