`Say It Isn't So' is a gross imitation

March 23, 2001|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

"Say It Isn't So" is a bollixed-up comedy in the Farrelly Brothers manner about pseudo-incest between a lovable boy-man (Chris Klein) and a ditzy golden girl (Heather Graham) who is said to be his sister. I couldn't gauge how terrible it was until the end, when the moviemakers ran outtakes next to the credits. The outtakes are a big mistake.

Jackie Chan includes outtakes at the end of his adventures to let viewers in on the risks behind his stunts and jokes. The Pixar animators of "A Bug's Life" invented fake outtakes as a witty capper, adding the illusion of a "fourth wall" to their 3-D animation.

But "Say It Isn't So" unrolls the outtakes simply as a blooper reel. They wring no laughs, and for good reason: Most of the film is one big blooper reel. There's not enough of a gap between the rejects and the finished movie.

The ads say, "From the guys who brought you `There's Something About Mary.' " Actually, the Farrelly Brothers only co-produced this picture; one of their proteges, J. B. Rogers, directed it, from a script by Peter Gaulke and Gerry Swallow. But Rogers, Gaulke and Swallow hew so closely to the genetic structure of the Farrellys' "Me, Myself and Irene," it's as if they ache to be the third, fourth and fifth Farrelly brothers - hardly an ambition to rank with wanting to be the fifth Beatle.

"Say It Isn't So" and "Me, Myself and Irene" share trash-comedy signatures and baggy-pants iconography: abused cows, sky banners that never say what the hero wants, and scores of state troopers in round-rimmed ranger-style hats. It's no wonder that when the under-used Sarah Silverman turns up as a trooper named Gina, her name tag clearly reads "Farrelly."

In "Say It Isn't So," we once again see a lonely guy, semi-sensitive and all befuddled, find and then alienate his dream girl. True to the Farrelly formula, he follows her from his small town to another small town far away and must save her from a corrupt Establishment player.

He meets a misfit helpmate who believes that he really is a good guy: in this case, the odd Samaritan is a Jimi Hendrix-haired double amputee (Orlando Jones) who operates his own airplane service. In short, the Farrelly recipe is one part Capra to two parts crapola. Like Capra, the filmmakers peddle the innate virtues of a poor naif and his plucky oddball friends. The difference is, by the end of a show, their naif is apt to wind up with his fist up a cow's entrails.

What's sad about "Say It Isn't So" is that a couple of scenes suggest that director Rogers might have his own take on the material - or at least his own kind of pastiche, like Garrison Keillor meeting W.C. Fields in a mosh pit.

Klein conveys the sweet doggedness of a guy with a long-term plan to become a vet and find the mother who abandoned him at infancy. After word gets around about the knockout (Graham) at the local hairdresser's, the camera glides past a line of fellas who, like Klein, are about to discover that her "European cut" is more like an Indian scalping.

Rogers stages a hilarious home dinner with Klein and his animal-rescue boss. This one sequence brings W.C. Fields' simmering desperation over claustrophobic middle-class domesticity into an era when everything hangs out. It plumbs the depths of knowing rancor between husband and wife, parents and kids; it comes up with psych gags that are also sight gags, like a daughter taunting Dad with her body piercings.

Unfortunately, most of the family scenes deal with Graham's gratingly harsh household: hawk-eyed, tight-skirted Sally Field as her social-climbing mother and Richard Jenkins as her stroke-victim father. You know a genre that's built on effrontery is losing its juice when the sick humor seems pro forma.

Once Klein is told - incorrectly, we soon find out - that Field is his mother as well as Graham's, the movie degenerates into a string of goads and jeers at Klein's supposedly incestuous cravings. When the luscious Graham flees town, the romantic comedy fades. It's as disastrous as Clarice and Lecter never meeting until the end of "Hannibal." And "Say It Isn't So" simply dribbles away.

Unlike "Hannibal," it doesn't climax with a black-comic piece de resistance that's also bizarrely romantic and a gross-out to beat all gross-outs. It ends with all those outtakes.

`Say It Isn't So'

Starring Chris Klein and Heather Graham

Directed by J.B. Rogers

Rated R (language and sexuality)

Released by 20th Century Fox

Running time 93 minutes

Sun score *1/2

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