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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Movie Review: Heartburn Inducing Heartbreak Kid

Review by Noah Mallin

The original version of The Heartbreak Kid was an all-American story of Charles Grodin trading up on his honeymoon from Jeannie Berlin to WASP goddess Cybill Shephard. The remake, starring Ben Stiller, is so loath to lay a glove on its leading man that it bends over backwards to try and explain why a guy would do such a rotten thing.

For one thing it’s more of a sideways trade in the new one. Stiller, looking like a constipated greyhound throughout, is cajoled into marrying by a suite of obnoxious types including pre-pubescenet twin boys who taunt him for being a “fag”, Rob Corddry who is too much of a prick to fulfill anyone’s notion of a best friend, and Stiller’s own father, played by Jerry Stiller – his own father.

Stiller the elder is outfitted with a Woody Woodpecker coif that looks like a colony of red dye number 2 was dispatched from the maraschino cherry factory, and a series of overbearing lines regarding “pussy.” His arc hits a stomach churning low in a Las Vegas hot tub with a topless lass whose grotesque huge fake mammaries bob upon the surface like discarded waterwings. Here at least is the root of Stiller the younger's evidently deep fear of all things woman.

He marries Malin Akerman, a gorgeous sunny-smiled blonde. The film then proceeds to use every centimeter of her delectable body as a talisman of fear and subjugation. No orifice is left unexplored in Stiller’s downright abject terror of this bombshell’s frank sexuality.

Watching the overexplicit sex scenes I was torn between the desire to tap Stiller out and take his place and the desire to throw a robe around the game Akerman and declare enough's enough already. I like nudity as much as the next guy but when it’s in the service of a punchline involving Stiller’s disgust at the thought of seeing more of her clitoris we’ve entered a zone that only a trained psychiatric professional can plumb.

The other attempts to make Akerman seem worth ditching – a massively deviated septum, no career ambitions, not the brightest bulb on the string, seem a bit petty and over-designed to draw attention away from the fact that the one with a real problem is Stiller. There is a glimpse of a real movie in the idea that even a va-va-voom looker like Akerman can seem lacking if the chemistry isn’t there – but this is overshadowed by the need to push her into a monstrous characterization that seems badly out of proportion. I felt sorry for the actress and the character.

Stiller instead finds comfort with Michelle Monaghan who is just as fetching as Akerman but in a more tomboy brunette fashion. More importantly she doesn't pressure him for sex. Monaghan generates chemistry all right, but it’s all on her own. She’s the only one who comes out of this mess unscathed but you want to shout at the screen like a horror film “Run run, before it’s too late! The guy can’t deal with a woman’s sexuality!”

It’s fascinating that a movie dedicated to so much graphic loathing of Akerman’s body is able to display so much of it and get an R rating from the MPAA. Were she spreading herself for sensuous pleasure rather than a punchline there’s no doubt this would be a porn, I can only imagine what was left on the cutting-room floor.

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