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THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY

by: Scott Renshaw

I'll worry tomorrow about whether I've consigned myself to Film Critic Hell; today, I'm still waiting for my cheeks and sides to recover. I'll worry tomorrow about whether or not the Farrelly brothers portend the end of civilization as we know it; today, I'm still grateful someone is willing to push the comedic envelope into heretofore unknown ZIP codes. Tomorrow I many not believe I've sent the following words to an unsuspecting world:  today, I believe THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY is the funniest comedy I've seen in this decade.

It may also be the most consistently, unapologetically tasteless comedy I've seen this decade. After all, these are the Farrelly brothers we're talking about, the same fellows who turned laxatives and "milking a bull" into comic stomach-churners in DUMB AND DUMBER and KINGPIN.  This time around they tell the story of Mary Jenson (Cameron Diaz), every man's fantasy:  she's beautiful, intelligent, and she loves beer, hot dogs and football.  The film opens in 1985, where geeky Ted Stroehmann (Ben Stiller) is on the verge of taking the stunning Mary to his high school prom.  Fate intervenes, however, and thirteen years later Ted is still thinking about Mary as the one that got away.  At the insistence of his friend Dom (Chris Elliott), Ted hires insurance claims investigator Pat Healy (Matt Dillon) to track down Mary in Florida.  Little does Ted know that Pat is about to become as infatuated with Mary as he is, leading to a romantic triangle which rapidly becomes a square, then a pentagon, then...

Never mind.  The plot is really beside the point.  THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY is really a collection of comedy-of-errors set pieces which find gags in the mentally handicapped, the physically handicapped, stalking, masturbation, anonymous homosexual encounters, serial killings and the unspeakable horror of getting..."it"...caught in one's zipper.  If that kind of subject matter seems more likely to have you grimacing than guffawing, don't say I didn't warn you:  there's even more where that came from. 

Viewers with less delicate sensibilities, on the other hand, may be hoarse at the end of a relentlessly raucous two hours.  It's unfair to spoil the moments with specifics; half the fun in THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY comes from I-can't-believe-they-did-that reactions.  Suffice to say that nearly everything works, from the surrealist use of alt-rock icon Jonathan Richman as the film's narrator/troubadour to the subverted romantic montage, from the perfectly-pitched charm of Diaz (rapidly becoming the most appealing screen actress of her generation, if she's not there already) to the goofy appeal of Stiller.  THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY recalls BLAZING SADDLES-era Mel Brooks, or AIRPLANE!-era Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker -- back-brain humor which will be as dumb and/or offensive to some viewers as it is hilarious to others.  Brilliant, it ain't; brilliantly executed, it is.

There are a couple of slow patches in THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY, which probably runs longer than advisable at nearly two hours.  When it pauses long enough to pretend that the character relationships matter, or to explain a rather unnecessary plot twist, the film could have you shifting in your seat.  Fortunately, they're only momentary distractions between laughs that beat down your logical objections, building and building until they add up to more laughs than you can remember at the movies.  I'm not proud of the fact that I'd rather sit through THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY again than any one of the inspid romantic comedies of the past five years that generally passed for comic entertainment, but I would.  I'll worry about what that means tomorrow.

On the Renshaw scale of 0 to 10 Farrelly low comedies:  9.

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