It's been a long, strange cinematic trip for the Farrelly Brothers. Back in 1998, fresh off the blockbuster success of 'There's Something About Mary,' they were the hottest comedy team in Hollywood. Taking John Waters-esque shock humor to new commercial heights (or lows, depending on your point of view), they made bad taste palatable to mass audiences in a way never before seen, and a bright future for the duo seemed almost assured.
Unfortunately for the Farrellys, the string of pictures that followed were virtually all misfires. 'Me, Myself & Irene,' 'Say It Ain't So,' 'Stuck On You' – it was one bomb after another, each arguably more inept than the last. Nearly ten years later, where their crude humor was once progressive, it’s now regressive –- as if the Farrellys simply refuse to grow up. Watching one of their movies today is like catching up with your old childhood pals, and finding them still giggling at fart jokes. Despite an underlying sweetness and a general good cheer to their approach, it's just not enough to counterbalance the rigid sameness of their sensibilities.
Although 'The Heartbreak Kid' is certainly the duo's most "grown up" work yet, it doesn't shake up the Farrelly formula enough to change the perception that they are an act past their prime. A remake of the 1972 film of the same name starring Charles Grodin, ‘Kid’ retains a premise that's ripe with opportunity to skewer modern relationships, but the Farrellys just don't seem to have enough faith in the material (or their own potential for comedic maturity) to really seize the material and run with it.
Ben Stiller stars as Eddie Cantrow, a well-off owner of a San Francisco sporting goods store who is unhappily single. He's constantly being pressured by his pals and his pop (played by Jerry Stiller, Ben's real-life dad) to get hitched, so when he finally meets someone who appears to be the girl of his dreams -- the beautiful blonde Lila (Malin Akerman) -- he rushes into a quickie marriage. Unfortunately for Eddie, as he soon learns during their disastrous honeymoon in Mexico, Lila is a bit more off-kilter than she originally seemed. In fact, she's downright crazy -- irrational, sexually deviant and so utterly annoying that Eddie comes to feel like he's just married a distaff Jekyll & Hyde.
Adding to Eddie's predicament is a chance encounter with the intelligent and sexy Miranda (Michelle Monaghan), who's on vacation with her oddball family. Eddie and Miranda hit it off immediately, and as he slowly begins to realize his growing attraction, he knows he must break it off with Lila. But that will be more easily said than done -- especially when Lila wises up to Eddie's covert plans, and will stop at nothing to keep him.
Back in 1998, the overt vulgarity of 'Mary' had some entertaining shock value, but now –- for the most part -- it only reeks of commercial desperation. To be fair, I did find myself chuckling quite a bit at ‘The Heartbreak Kid,’ but the Farrellys' continued need to push the boundaries of lowest common denominator humor dominates the film’s runtime, and ultimately robs the film of much of its potential.
When the brothers sharpen the focus on their characters and themes, 'The Heartbreak Kid' is much more successful. Eddie is identifiable because, like so many, he's bought into the false ideals of instant romantic attraction that we're all taught by modern Western culture. He wants marriage so badly because he's told that's what he should want. It's only when he finally meets Miranda (and makes his first real connection with another human being) that he finally realizes what he's really been looking for all along. This is ideal material for a perceptive comedy, making it that much more of a shame that the Farrellys can't let go of the childish slapstick. It’s as if they haven’t yet grasped the basic rule of situational comedy -- it's relatable characters that make us laugh, not their bodily excretions.
Still, I'm going to risk giving 'The Heartbreak Kid' three stars. The cheap humor is pretty dumb, but it’s often funny, and the performances are strong enough that the film actually plays better on the screen than it does off the page. The basic premise also makes enough interesting points about the modern dating scene that there’s slightly more to the movie than mere inanity. In short: if don't expect too much, you might just get a kick out of 'The Heartbreak Kid.'
Paramount presents 'The Heartbreak Kid' in 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 video, framed at its original 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio. This is one of Paramount's better efforts of late -- bright, extremely colorful and razor-sharp.
The most immediately striking aspect of 'The Heartbreak Kid' is its colors -- dripping with saturation, they're absolutely fantastic, with the film’s holiday exteriors benefiting from particular pop. Depth and detail is up there with the best new releases, boasting a wonderfully three-dimensional quality that impresses. The transfer is also almost miraculous in that not a single shot appears soft -- it's absolutely sharp throughout.
'The Heartbreak Kid' is not quite perfect, however. Contrast is far less tweaked than so many of the new releases I see on a daily basis, but it still runs slightly hot, leaving the very brightest scenes a little too crisp. I also detected a few minor jaggies on harshly-contrasted objects during slow tracking shots (I suspect this will hardly be visible on average to smaller-size displays). Still, neither of these two drawbacks are enough to warrant more than a half-star demerit. Overall, 'The Heartbreak Kid' looks smashing.
Nicely complimenting the sharp video transfer, Paramount offers up a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/16-bit) for 'The Heartbreak Kid' that also sparkles.
Superior to most comedy soundtracks, 'The Heartbreak Kid' is always lively and dynamic. Surrounds are nicely engaged but not overdone, with well-modulated discrete effects and active bleed of the score. The recording is incredibly clear, with expansive highs and low bass that showcases some surprising kick. Dialogue is very distinct in the center channel, but all elements of the mix still sound organic. Make no mistake, 'The Heartbreak Kid' doesn’t boast the sound of a big action blockbuster, but for a film of its type, it's presented in fine fashion.
Although Paramount has carried over all of the extras from the standard-def DVD, this supplement package is only decent. The video-based features in particular are lighter than a soufflé, but at least most are nicely presented here in full HD.
Although 'The Heartbreak Kid' is definitely a disappointment coming from the team behind ‘There’s Something About Mary,’ it still boasts a compelling concept and a fair share of laughs. As an HD DVD, this one certainly delivers on the bottom line, with strong video and audio and a decent set of supplements. I wouldn't recommend 'The Heartbreak Kid' for purchase sight unseen, but if you can set your expectations accordingly, it's definitely worth a rental.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.