Wednesday, July 15, 1998

Seriously silly

Movie: There's SomeFthing About Mary

Posted on Wed, Jul 15, 1998 at 4:00 AM

***1/2
Our Rating: 3.50

"There's Something About Mary," the latest loopy comedy from gross-out siblings Peter and Bobby Farrelly, is driven by a nearly nonstop string of over-the-top moments likely to make older audiences cringe in disgust. Teen-agers and those of us delaying adulthood, though, may laugh until we cry as the writing-directing duo behind "Dumb and Dumber" and "Kingpin" roll out this ceaselessly bawdy tale of a loveable loser's quest for the girl of his dreams.

The Farrellys' sweet-natured treat, a welcome respite from the murder, mayhem and malaise of much of the summer competition, takes cues from film noir and date-movie romances, and then flushes those elements down the toilet with a liberal sprinkling of bathroom humor.

Ben Stiller, the second-generation comic actor so winning in 1995's "Flirting with Disaster," is suitably dorky and shy as Ted Peloquin, a nerdnik with braces and ratty hair who's invited to go to the senior prom with Mary (Cameron Diaz of "My Best Friend's Wedding."), the cutest girl on campus. Yeah, right.

A painful mishap with a zipper cuts short that rendezvous, and Mary's mom, stepdad, a policeman and a fireman crowd into the bathroom to inspect the embarrassing results of the accident. The bit offers the filmmakers the first of several opportunities to cross the line from good humor to something way out there. Will they or won't they? Don't ask, and for sure don't tell.

Thirteen years later, Ted remains infatuated with his would-be old flame. He hires insurance claims-adjuster Pat Healy (Matt Dillon), a sleazy tough guy with a Wayne Newton moustache, to track down Mary, now alive and well and foxy in Miami. Healy lies about her current circumstances -- saying she's tubby, wheelchair-bound, alone with four kids born out of wedlock and headed to Japan as a mail-order bride -- and uses his sleuthing tools to transform himself into her idea of the perfect guy.

Learning of the deception, Ted makes haste to South Florida and while en route is hassled by a nutty hitchhiker, mistakenly arrested for public indecency, set up for murder, beaten up by South Carolina cops and hugged by an amorous inmate. He finally makes it to his destination and joins the growing corps of stalkers and others -- including a pal played by the ever-smirking Chris Elliott and a nice-guy beau portrayed by Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre -- out to make Mary their own.

All of this plot nonsense, of course, is just filler between sequences demonstrating the Farrellys' talent at taking comic situations and haphazardly blowing them up until they explode in hilarity.

For example, during a first date with Mary, Healy makes increasingly frantic efforts to revive her neighbor's dog, moving quickly from mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a little experimental electroshock. Most repulsive of all is a masturbation routine that takes place at the start of Ted's long-delayed big night out with his newfound love.

Stiller and Dillon (successfully polishing his comic chops after impressive outings in "Beautiful Girls" and "Singles"), although funny on their own, unfortunately don't really click when they share screen time.

Jonathan Richman, the quirky singer-songwriter and former leader of the Modern Lovers, and his drummer Tommy Larkins are the film's Zelig-like Greek chorus, suddenly showing up on a tree branch, at a street corner, in a party band and behind a hot-dog stand to mug their way through bits and pieces of the theme song, commenting on the action.

"There's Something About Mary" may be too rude, lewd and crude to be enjoyed in polite company. So take a friend willing to brave embarrassment for the sake of a seriously silly treasure. Don't say you weren't warned.

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