26 SEPTEMBER 1998, Page 57


The filthy, funny Farrellys

Mark Steyn

Peter and Bob Farrelly gave us Dumb and Dumber and Ben Stiller starred in Flirt- ing with Disaster, two fine low comedies. But yoked together in There's Something About Mary all three effortlessly limbo under the bar of their own gleefully low standards. I cannot think of a better scene this year involving a smouldering, electroshocked border terrier high on speed, nor of a more inventive gag involv- ing the male ejaculate. It's traditional at this point for the inse- cure critic to invoke the grand tradition of Moliere and Swift, but, to be honest, a bet- ter comparison is probably Mel Brooks (Blazing Saddles) and the Zucker brothers (Airplane!, Naked Gun). What the Farrellys have done is apply the grosser Brooks/Zucker gags to mainstream roman- tic comedy, and, oddly enough, it works rather better than most contemporary entries to the genre.

We begin with a flashback — to high school in the Eighties, when an archetypal nerd of the period (Stiller) is asked to the prom by the foxiest babe in town (Cameron Diaz) — all because he stood up for her mentally handicapped brother. 'I couldn't believe she knew my name,' sighs Ted, looking back. 'Some of my best friends didn't know my name.' Unfortunately, call- ing to collect Mary, he makes the mistake of using her bathroom and snags the old pork-and-beans in his zipper. Within min- utes, her parents, the police chief and his fire department are gathered around eagerly examining the portion of offending member protruding through his fly — a shot that surely merits an Oscar for Best Part in a Motion Picture. The evening ends prematurely with Ted, screaming and bleeding profusely, being taken away in an ambulance.

Cut to 1998. Ted is still single, still pining for Mary and still boring on about her to his pal (Chris Elliott). Elliott suggests hir- ing a sleazy shamus (Matt Dillon) to find her, but, when he eventually tracks her down, Dillon is smitten, too. He follows Miss Diaz around, watching her helping out at her brother's mentally disabled cen- tre and later telling her girlfriends about her ideal man. 'He has to be self- employed.' You mean like a drug dealer?' `I was thinking of an architect. Someone who likes to travel.' Dillon acts immediate- ly: he accidentally bumps into her with a set of blueprints, having just returned from his 'condo in Nepal'. Then, he adds that architecture's all very well but not as rewarding as his volunteer work. 'What's that?' asks Miss Diaz. 'I work with retards,' says Dillon, showing his sensitive side.

Stiller, meanwhile, driving south in hot pursuit, stops for a nocturnal pee at the side of the road but makes the mistake of choosing a gay pick-up spot just at the moment it's raided by the police. Even worse, he's mistaken for a homosexual seri- al killer, the remains of whose latest victim have somehow found their way into his trunk. By the time he extricates himself and gets down to Florida, not only is Dillon putting the moves on Miss Diaz, but so is our own Lee Evans, playing a crippled British architect who is not what he seems.

It would be unfair to give away what hap- pens subsequently, except to say that it involves hives, whiteheads on eyelids, cruel- ty to dogs, an unusual hair gel, pendulous breasts with a George Hamilton tan that only seems to emphasise the wrinkles and a masturbation scene set to Bizet's Carmen (though they probably have the Oscar Hammerstein version in mind: 'Beat Out Dat Rhythm On A Drum'). The Farrellys protest that they know the bounds of good taste: they cut the scene where Mary's neighbour Magda uses tweezers to pluck a hair from her nipple.

It's fair to say that the mean-spiritedness of the Farrellys — the dog jokes, the fat jokes, the crip jokes, the gay-killer jokes can seem a wee bit calculated. But that's inevitable in an airbrushed culture where more and more areas of life are comedical- ly out of bounds. I never understand why the Right makes such a fuss about sex and violence and vulgarity: the most dangerous Hollywood product is the sappiest — Poca- hontas, say; that's where all the truly dotty propaganda slips through. And, for what it's worth, the Farrellys' blend of naivety and grossness is not only a closer approxi- mation of real-life 'romance', but more plausible than My Best Friend's Wedding and other mainstream romantic comedies. I don't know what the various spokesper- sons for the disabled make of the film, but there's something modestly groundbreak- ing about giving the pin-up gal a mentally handicapped brother and it not being a problem, just something taken for granted. Cameron Diaz, bobbling under her Olivia Newton-John bangs, gives a peach of a per- formance, sweetly oblivious of the desper- ate stratagems to which she drives any man who stumbles across her. The guys Stiller, Dillon, Elliott — are endearingly deranged in their pursuit: I especially liked Dillon's check pants and Hawaiian shirts.

Everything turns me on now. I've had a few erogenous-zone transplants.'