In The Heartbreak Kid’s Seinfeldian universe, singing along to “Muskrat Love” isn’t only a red flag, it’s grounds for divorce. Eddie Cantrow isn’t an unreasonable man, however. He thinks it’s a blast to belt out Springsteen’s “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” with his wife while road-tripping to Mexico for their honeymoon. But everyone knows that car karaoke gets old, especially when the radio excretes stuff like Barry Manilow, the Spice Girls, and that rodent-themed Captain & Tennille classic. So as Eddie’s new bride, Lila, keeps on warbling to song after godawful song, it suddenly becomes clear to him that she’s less babe than siren.
Bobby and Peter Farrelly don’t bring any fresh insight or relevance to their remake of 1972’s Elaine May–directed, Neil Simon–scripted The Heartbreak Kid—their deepest change is switching the female characters’ hair colors, so that now Mrs. Wrong is the bombshell blonde and Mrs. Right the sensible brunette—but debating the “necessity” of a film’s redo has gotten as tiring as the recent onslaught of regurgitated scripts themselves. Mainly, the brothers have taken a decent comedy and turned it into a…decent comedy, albeit this time said decency is delivered with a considerable dose of the Farrellys’ trademark raunch.
Ben Stiller replaces the original’s Charles Grodin, and considering the main character’s position as a man whose patience is chipped away slowly, then exponentially, by his wife’s every newly discovered quirk, the casting is perfect. His Eddie, the owner of a San Francisco sporting-goods store, isn’t quite the kind of loser that Stiller played in the Farrellys’ There’s Something About Mary, but he’s still an outsider: At 40, Eddie is a bachelor, harassed about being alone by his father (played by his real-life dad, Jerry Stiller) and best friend, Mac (Rob Corddry). Dad complains that Eddie doesn’t “crush pussy” often enough; Mac tries to convince Eddie that marriage is bliss, though really Mac just wants the comfort of knowing someone as henpecked as he is. Eddie’s low point comes on Valentine’s Day, when he attends the wedding of a former girlfriend and is forced to sit with kids (because it’s the “singles table”) and listen to a speech in which his once-potential father-in-law muses about approving his daughter’s choice: “That’s because he’s the first guy she’s brought home that wasn’t a total asshole!” Meanwhile, Eddie’s tablemates discuss whether he’s gay.
After the ceremony, though, Eddie meets an environmental researcher named Lila (Malin Akerman), and after six weeks of googly-eyed dating, they decide to get married so her company won’t assign her to a yearlong stint in Germany. He’s happy, happy, happy. (Though, mercifully, the directors try to cut the sugar by, for instance, capping off a kissing montage with Lila wiping out while couple-biking.) But then Lila starts singing and tracing circles around Eddie’s nipples and asking him to hold her hand while they eat in a diner. Because they waited to sleep together, he doesn’t know that she likes acrobatic, raucous sex. And when she doesn’t listen to his warning about wearing a strong sunscreen on the Mexican beach and gets a blistering burn, he’s annoyed at her stupidity. But that’s OK, because Lila’s ailment gives Eddie time to get to know Miranda (Michelle Monaghan), a more down-to-earth lacrosse coach who’s vacationing with her Mississippi family and spends her time cartwheeling with children in the surf. Miranda doesn’t know Eddie’s on his honeymoon, so she’s as smitten as he is.
A trio of writers helped the Farrellys rework Simon’s script about impetuous marriage and true love, and that seems like an awful lot of sweat for nothing more imaginative than queef jokes and the going-crazy shtick that Stiller’s been doing for years. Comparisons to the original Heartbreak Kid aren’t as damaging as placing it up against the oeuvre of Judd Apatow, who more sharply mined the same naughty-but-nice territory in projects such as Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Like Apatow, the Farrellys still try to counter their dirty bits with life lessons—when Eddie confronts the resort manager, played by an unfunny Carlos Mencia, about trying to put his dick in Lila’s unsuspecting hand, he points out Eddie’s dalliance with Miranda and says, “I just figured, anything goes with this guy!” But for all the goofing, there’s an undercurrent of nastiness, mostly at the expense of women. Lila loses points when she spots an elderly couple and tells Eddie, “That’s us in 10 years,” excusing her miscalculation by saying, “I’m really bad at math.” Eddie claims that she doesn’t have a sense of humor, but his dad reasons, “Funny is a male gene.” Mac’s take on all this? “Bitches be crazy, man!”
But, well, it’s pretty entertaining when Corddry says it, and there’s enough lightness and talent here to keep one’s eyebrows from staying raised for long. Akerman mostly comes off as a poor man’s Cameron Diaz, but she, uh, nails her bedroom scenes, the funniest of which has Lila yelling, “Cock me!” and insulting Eddie’s manhood when he won’t hit her. (And Monaghan is completely uninteresting here, which is clearly a significant flaw.) Stiller, on the other hand, brings a little subtlety to all the broadness. He does freak out and is predictably funny while doing so, but more enjoyable is Eddie’s slowly degenerating expressions when Lila starts to get on his nerves. Or answering her passion-fueled requests for a slap because she’s “been a bad girl” with a nerdy “No, you’ve been fine.” Even Jerry Stiller’s filthy quips are occasionally amusing, although his red hair and vaguely orange complexion make him look like an Oompa-Loompa.
The new Heartbreak Kid’s main fault is an overly long running time. Overobviousness is another one—the new Lila has a walloping number of ticks in the “con” category, for instance, even though the story’s message is that Eddie is really the one with the problem (which the ending, though still open, also more definitively drives home). Grodin, May, and Simon came up with something as good as “Rosalita” in 1972, but though Farrellys’ version doesn’t match up, it’s far from being “Muskrat Love.”