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'Heartbreak' remake feels like trading down

It's almost always a bad idea to remake a classic. The Farrelly brothers' take on 'The Heartbreak Kid' reduces a very human situation to a series of gross gags.

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It's almost always a bad idea to remake a classic, and if it's a classic comedy, the risks are even bigger. More so than with a great drama, a great comedy owes its distinction to an unreproducible confluence of tone and performance.

This is all by way of saying that the Farrelly brothers' remake of Elaine May's 1972 classic, "The Heartbreak Kid," is a major comedown at every level. I suppose it could not have been otherwise. Still, even by Farrelly standards, the film is a washout.

In the original movie, which was scripted by Neil Simon from a short story by Bruce Jay Friedman, Charles Grodin played a New York Jewish sporting-goods salesman who ditches his down-to-earth Jewish bride, played by Jeannie Berlin, on their Miami honeymoon and pursues Cybill Shepherd's WASP goddess. (The film, which is often quite touching and was never intended to be a wall-to-wall laugh riot, delved into uncomfortable areas of ethnic differences and was accused, unfairly I thought, of being anti-Semitic.)

In the new version, the Farrellys and their team of screenwriters have switched the premise: Eddie Cantrow (Ben Stiller), who runs a sporting-goods shop in San Francisco, marries Lila (Malin Akerman), a blond bombshell, and then, on their Mexican honeymoon, finds true love with Miranda (Michelle Monaghan), a vacationing girl-next-door brunette from Mississippi.

The switcheroo, which studiously avoids any obvious ethnic references, seems designed primarily for commercial reasons. As the Farrellys have admitted in interviews, if Eddie "traded up," as he did in the original movie, he would lose the support of the female audience. (Presumably all the male spectators would cheer him on?) The Farrellys labor mightily to make Eddie sympathetic by turning Lila into the bride from hell.

On the ride down the coast to Mexico, she can't stop singing along to terrible pop oldies on the radio. Their sexual romps – which, like the language, are crudely explicit – are calisthenic workouts. The more Lila reveals about herself and her past, the more Eddie flees to Miranda, who is in Cabo with her relatives and doesn't suspect he is on his honeymoon. (A bad sunburn has conveniently kept Lila confined to her room.)

The Farrellys' un-PC blend of sex, obscenity, and slapstick comes across as cruel this time because the brothers reduce a very human situation to a series of gross gags. If this is their way of securing the sympathies of their audience, male or female, then they are as out of touch as their hapless protagonist. Grade:


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