Diaz, Stiller give movie a core of decency Review: You don't have to be super-sensitive to find something offensive about 'Mary.' What may really offend you is how often you find yourself laughing.

July 15, 1998|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

The kings of gross-out comedy, brothers Peter and Bobby Farrelly, are back with a romantic romp about as sweet as they can make it -- between crude sexual jokes, flatulent humor, sadistic sight gags involving a yippy dog and comedy at the expense of the handicapped.

Actually, "Something About Mary" doesn't poke fun at the handicapped so much as at the patronizing and hypocritical way many "abled" people deal with them. In fact, the Brothers Farrelly seem set on skewering every politically correct piety they can sight their prodigious squirt-gun on.

But such subtextual subtleties are lost amid the utterly offensive, and often riotously funny, on-screen goings-on. If you take offense at rough language and disgusting humor -- usually wrought from sexual organs or sexual functions -- do not see "There's Something About Mary." However, if lowest-common-denominator humor is your idea of a mental summer vacation, read on.

The dazzling Cameron Diaz, who sang with such off-key brio in a karaoke bar in "My Best Friend's Wedding," proves just what a terrific sport she is as the title character of "There's Something About Mary." Her biggest job here is to personify the Farrellys' ideal woman: someone blonde and curvaceous, whose idea of the perfect night out is to toss back a few beers and dogs at the game, then settle down in front of ESPN. Oh, and it helps if she has a lucrative medical practice.

It's no wonder that every man Mary meets instantly falls for her. But one man is more tenacious than the rest. Ever since high school Ted (Ben Stiller) has harbored a ferocious crush on Mary, made more complicated by the fact that the last time he saw her he was undergoing a painful complication with his zipper and his lower extremities (a complication the Farrelly brothers show the audience in complete and groan-inspiring detail).

Ted needs closure, so he hires an insurance investigator, Healy (Matt Dillon), to track Mary down in Miami. Pretty soon the oily shamus has fallen for Mary, too, and the two men -- as well as a couple of other admirers -- are engaged in a chase to win her heart.

"There's Something About Mary" is sexist, offensive, disgusting and devoid of redeeming social value, and it's impossible to sit through it without laughing. Some will get their kicks watching Mary's mentally retarded brother go crazy when Ted tries to touch his ears; others will break into giggles at the sight of Puffy the dog (think Verdell in "As Good As It Gets") going into a coma, being revived with improvised electroshock and catching fire.

Audiences willing to part with cheap laughs will appreciate "There's Something About Mary" for its sophomoric humor, most of which defies description in a family newspaper.

But the film does have its more sophisticated points, like the appearance of post-modern troubadour Jonathan Richman and his deadpan drummer as a sweetly ironic Greek chorus. The British comedian Lee Evans, late of "Mouse Hunt," lends credibility to an enterprise that by rights should have no credibility at all.

What sets "There's Something About Mary" apart from "Dumb and Dumber" and "Kingpin," the Farrellys' two previous outings, is its heart of pure goodness in the form of Stiller, who reprises Mat- thew Broderick's innocent straight man in "The Cable Guy," and Diaz, whose Mary is genuinely sweet.

Together they form a strong center of authentic human warmth that makes the inhuman antics swirling around them easier to take. Everyone will be outraged by something in "There's Something About Mary," but thanks to these two, no one will stay mad for long.

'There's Something About Mary'

Starring Cameron Diaz, Ben Stiller, Matt Dillon

Directed by Peter Farrelly and Bobby Farrelly

Released by 20th Century Fox

Rated R (strong comic sexual content and language)

Running time 118 minutes

Sun score ** 1/2

Pub Date: 7/15/98

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