The Farrelly's brothers comedy has ushered in a new era of potty humor films, including ''Big Daddy,'' ''Austin Powers,'' and more

By David Hochman
June 18, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

If Hollywood were junior high, there’d be a bunch of kids lining up for detention right about now. When Peter and Bobby Farrelly’s comedy There’s Something About Mary outgrossed the competition by grossing out the competition last summer, it was like a permission slip for moviemakers everywhere to share their sickest, smelliest, suckiest toilet humor with the rest of the class.

Consider the soiled evidence. (WARNING: Much of it is in the form of bodily fluids, so read no further if you’re weak of stomach.) In the Austin Powers sequel, The Spy Who Shagged Me, the secret agent sips a diarrhea daiquiri and broadens the definition of shagadelic to include scenes in which gerbils appear to pop out of his butt; meanwhile, a drooling, flatulent, 700-pound Scotsman is fitted with a GPS anal probe. When asked if there was anything too stupid or gross to include in the movie, writer-star Mike Myers says: ”No. The notion of intelligent versus unintelligent comedy is irrelevant to me. It’s not too stupid as long as it’s funny.”

Perhaps, but this summer it seems harder than ever to define where funny ends and just plain nauseating begins. In next month’s American Pie, a jock mistakenly drinks a beer laced with a certain milky bodily fluid, and a lovable loser has his way with a hot apple pie. In Adam Sandler’s Big Daddy, our hero teaches his newly adopted kid to pee anywhere he pleases and to hock and suck up loogies. And in the forthcoming big-screen version of Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s South Park, the film’s tag line — Bigger, Longer & Uncut — will turn out to mean bigger fart gags, longer pissing contests, and uncut talking-poop routines. Even the good kids are getting into the act: George Lucas plops down two scatological gags in The Phantom Menace, including one in which Jar Jar steps in a pile of Banta doody.

Not everyone is thrilled with such gross encounters. ”Relying on bathroom humor over and over is an easy creative crutch that ultimately leads to an incivil society,” says Ted Baehr, publisher of Movie Guide, which rates films on moral content. ”A few flatulence jokes in Austin Powers are innocuous, but the sum total of all that raunchy humor all summer takes a toll.”

So is anyone keeping a check on the rising tide in the sewer? The MPAA, it seems, is having a hard time digging through the dreck. Although there are specific guidelines about language, violence, and nudity, things get slippery when it comes to bathroom humor. ”This is all subjective,” says MPAA president Jack Valenti. ”You’re not dealing with Euclid’s geometry here. You’re dealing with a fuzzy line between I like it and I don’t like it. That’s why most of these pictures smudge the line between a PG-13 and an R.”

Which explains why all ratings logic this summer seems to have gone down the toilet. Although both Powers and Pie feature abundant sex jokes, partial nudity, and a gross-out scene involving a body-fluid cocktail, Pie landed an R and Powers received a PG-13. Daddy’s vomit gags got a PG-13, while South Park‘s rated an R. ”What [the MPAA] lets through is complete mysticism,” says Stone, who claims the ratings board will come down on certain words (which we can’t print) while allowing ”raw, nasty jokes that are far more offensive than the word itself.” That’s to say, when it comes to bathroom humor, the ratings game is a bit of a crapshoot. ”It’s all about striking the right balance,” says Powers director Jay Roach. ”If you balance roughness and cheekiness with sweetness and innocence, it tends to placate the MPAA.”