Who’s got the biggest penis joke? No contest. It’s the Farrelly brothers, the absurdist sick-comedy pranksters who made Dumb and Dumber and Kingpin, and whose new movie, There’s Something About Mary (Twentieth Century Fox), tells you right off where it’s aiming (hint: below the funny bone). In a flashback to 1985, we meet Ted Peloquin (Ben Stiller), a high school sad sack with braces, wounded eyes, and the kind of scraggly bad hair that screams, “I wish I were the keyboard player in Toto!” Ted does what desperate nerds have always done — he covets the most delectable girl in school. Her name is Mary Jenson (Cameron Diaz), and she asks Ted to the senior prom (fat chance!) after he defends her mentally retarded brother in a fight. Once at Mary’s, Ted, in the bathroom, gets his member stuck in his zipper, resulting in an S&M slapstick sequence you’ll find either excruciatingly hilarious or (in my case) just painful. As Ted writhes, we’re meant to guffaw at the Farrellys’ defiant crudity, but the scene goes on for so long that it wears out its outrageousness.
Years later, Ted has yet to get over that humiliating night, or the puppy-love crush that spawned it. He hires a detective, Pat Healy (Matt Dillon, doing cocky shtick in a check-out-what-a-sleaze-I-am mustache), who locates Mary in Miami. She’s so babelicious that Healy, a pathological liar, starts to pose as her dream guy, a bit cribbed from Woody Allen’s Everyone Says I Love You. Then Ted arrives.
The romantic-stalker plot is really an excuse for the Farrellys to indulge their over-deliberate brand of madcap tastelessness. Mary’s neighbor is an aging South Florida pixie, and the film lingers on her melanoma tan, wrinkled flesh, and penchant for tongue kissing her dog. There are swipes at “retards,” gay serial killers, and the handicapped. The dog gets a dose of electroshock. Even when the Farrellys score, they overshoot: A masturbation gag features an uproarious visual shock, doused by Mary’s staggeringly contrived reaction.
The jokes carry an implication: If you don’t laugh, you’re elitist or overly “correct.” But you don’t have to be a prude to be put off by the strenuousness with which the Farrellys telegraph their taboo-smashing glee, or by the way they seem locked into the very teen-dweeb vision they’re satirizing. Mary isn’t a character–she’s a geek’s dream of cover-girl beauty made lonely and pliant. Stiller and Dillon fail to generate an electron of charisma between them. The Farrellys may well be the new kingpins of adolescent slob comedy,
but There’s Something About Mary doesn’t approach the witty anarchy of movies like Animal House, The Naked Gun, or Hairspray. This is the prefab version.