Ben there, done that

Watching a gray-haired Ben Stiller play the emotionally wrecked single guy navigate his way through another rocky relationship is beginning resemble seeing Bob Denver at an auto show circa 1990, resurrecting the trusty old Gilligan fishing cap and red love-sleeve shirt.

Sure, it’s great to see the old guy still getting around and having fun, but you can’t be feel a tinge of sadness for our former “little buddy.”

You do have to give Stiller credit for being such a staunch environmentalist, though, for he has been recycling the same put-upon, unlucky-in-love loser character he’s been playing since 1998’s “There’s Something about Mary” (don’t believe me? Rent “Meet the Parents,” “Duplex” “Along Came Polly,””Meet the Fockers” or “Night at the Museum” and see if you can tell the differences in his characters).

Now in his 40s, Stiller dusts off the same bordering-on-rage nebbish in “The Heartbreak Kid,” a remake of the 1972 Neil Simon-scripted comedy. Don’t get me wrong; this form of comedy fits him comfortably. But really, decades from now, do we really want to watch his zany shenanigans when his date confuses his Metamucil for Ex-Lax at the nursing home?

There is one tiny variation on the theme in “Heartbreak Kid.” And that is his character, Eddie Cantrow is one selfish, churlish little S.O.B. As the commitment-phobic sporting goods store owner is the architect of his own downfall as he piles upon lie after lie in order to save his own fanny. Had he been an in-his-prime twentysomething caught with his hand in the nookie jar, his childish behavior could be chalked up to youthful indiscretion. But approaching middle-age? Not so much.

Eddie, chided by friends and family for his relationship recreancy, happens upon Lila (played by Malin Ackerman)a stunning girl who seems like the perfect mate and he rushes to the chapel more quickly than he should.

What follows could read like a hilarious series of love-at-first-sight foibles, but it plays out like a series of missed opportunities. While honeymooning in Cabo, Lila reveals some fuzzed-over moments of her past that range from the small (singing along with every song that is played on the car radio, including the Spice Girls and “Muskrat Love”) to the catastrophic (a deviated septum from a cocaine habit, a job that is more of a non-paid internship than a career).

Attempting to assuage the angst, Eddie suggests a little sun-soaking serenity with the increasingly shifty missus where she proceeds to sizzle like a fajita in her beach chair. A blistering sun poisoning leaves her bed-bound, allowing Eddie to pursue another bathing beauty on vacation in the same resort with her family. Miranda (played by a button-cute Michelle Monaghan) is a college lacrosse coach that represents the stability and wholesomeness that Eddie thought he had found with Lila. And while he’s only met her a couple times, he’s convinced somehow that she’s the real real thing.

After a string of under-performing, more-family-friendly flops (“Shallow Hal,” “Stuck on You” and the charming “Fever Pitch”), “Heartbreak Kid” was supposed to represent the return to the R-rated raunch that helped the writer-director siblings, the Farrelly Brothers, first make their mark with “Mary.”

But unlike the throwaway gags that gave that extra something to “Something,” here they are not only forced but telegraphed plot points that resurface later in the picture. For example, in the opening when Eddie sits at the all-children’s table at his former fiancée’s wedding, he tries to outwit the precocious pre-teens by claiming he’s a widower and engages in a rapid-fire question-and-answer session to validate his story. It’s an amusing bit, but his answers become a major moment in the script when he’s attempting to woo Miranda.

The cast is of little help to the material, either. While Monaghan makes an amiable co-star, Ackerman is merely a cardboard stand-in for Cameron Diaz (much like Teri Polo in the “Meet the …” films) and makes one appreciate the comedic zest Diaz added to “Mary.” And the less said about Carlos Mencia – Mexico’s answer to Larry the Cable Guy – the better.

Even Stiller looks tired. His simian-like slouch looks as though he’s either attempting to shoulder the film’s weight alone or suffering from a severe calcium deficiency.

There’s a lingering whiff of desperation that permeates the film, perhaps suggesting that it’s time Stiller and Farrelly Brothers finally let their “Kid” grow up and be a man.

~ by usesoapfilm on October 9, 2007.

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