There's Something About Mary (1998)

D: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly
S: Cameron Diaz, Ben Stiller, Matt Dillon

Romantic comedy from the makers of Dumb and Dumber and Kingpin which works surprisingly well given its genealogy, but which is funniest when at its most outrageous, cartoonish and over the top. Ben Stiller is a writer whose infatuation with beautiful Cameron Diaz leads him to pursue her from Rhode Island to Miami thirteen years after a disatrous senior prom night. He hires sleazy detective Matt Dillon to trace her, but when he falls for her as well, complications ensue.

Despite the attempts to bolster the crude jokes and physical humour with a stronger than usual storyline and the ever-fetching Ms. Diaz, this film is still best appreciated as a knockabout farce in the mould of the keystone cops, only with flatulence, penis jokes and cruelty to animals. It's big, dumb fun for those not easily offended and willing to forget entirely about tasteful entertainment.

Like the previous films from the Farrellys, There's Something About Mary trades on the talents of its stars playing broad, often violent, comic scenes. Dumb and Dumber held together largely on the energy of Jeff Daniels and Jim Carrey, Kingpin had Woody Harrelson, Randy Quaid and Bill Murray to play with. This film offers the likable Stiller playing more or less straight (some madcap scenes excepted), backed by Diaz' considerable charms and range of winsome facial gestures. In support Dillon does an hilarious turn which plays the part just right for a nifty balance of comedy and creepiness, backed by Lee Evans and Chris Elliott in support (with funny cameos for Farrelly regulars Harland Williams and Richard Tyson).

Of course the film ultimately turns on its big set pieces (which filled out the trailers), including the fate of a particularly violent little dog and the fateful prom night incident which sets the narrative in motion. There is a plot there, and it more or less works (given that you still have to accept the crazed world in which the film takes place before any of it can do so), but like the somewhat similar The Wedding Singer, it finally comes down not to the nuances of plot and character like a real romantic comedy, but to the gags. This is where the taste barometer kicks in, and there is plenty here to outrage the usual people (mind you, there's still nothing here to rival the laxative scene in Dumb and Dumber for sheer scatological belly laughs). If you are suitably attuned before the film begins, then it will probably keep you entertained. If not, you may wonder what all the fuss was about.

On the balance, There's Something About Mary is reasonably enjoyable, but though generally more polished and carefully worked than its predecessors, and certainly more likable than Kingpin, it lacks the sheer moronic fun of Dumb and Dumber which made its otherwise predictable and routine elements easy to endure. This time around, the emphasis is actually on the predictable and routine, namely the plot, which is why its comic highlights are so memorable. Still, the film passes the time painlessly enough if you're able to stand the level of humour. If not, you're best staying clear and you're not really missing all that much.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1998.