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By Film critic
msnbc.com contributor
updated 10/4/2007 3:52:27 PM ET 2007-10-04T19:52:27
REVIEW

Elaine May’s 1972 comedy, “The Heartbreak Kid,” is about a cad who abandons his wife on their honeymoon to chase an ideal woman. The audience knows he’s a cad, and the comedy comes from the squirmy way he tries to get what he wants as he attempts to justify his awful actions.

Bobby and Peter Farrelly’s 2007 remake delivers a lot of laughs despite the fact we’re clearly supposed to root for and feel sorry for the cad, played by Ben Stiller, no matter how squirmy or awful his actions.

Eddie Cantrow (Stiller) is a San Francisco sporting-goods store owner who has just turned 40 and wonders why he’s still single. He meets Lila (Malin Akerman), a seemingly perfect girl who loves making out with him when she’s not talking about her job as an environmental researcher.

After a whirlwind courtship, the two tie the knot, but the movie turns on a dime and Lila becomes a compulsive lunatic who tortures Eddie with off-key radio sing-alongs, bizarre physical ailments (the Farrellys squeeze out every possible deviated-septum gag) and the least appealing sexy talk you’ve ever heard.

The audience is supposed to be understanding when Eddie starts hitting on Miranda (Michelle Monaghan), a pretty lacrosse coach from Mississippi, while Lila is holed up in their Mexican honeymoon resort, nursing an awful sunburn. Farcical misunderstandings ensue, but all of the moments where Miranda and Eddie just miss having the conversation about what’s really happening will make you wish you were watching a Judd Apatow comedy, where the characters talk about everything, no matter how awkward the situation becomes.

It’s unclear where this remake goes astray. Is it because Stiller, even when playing characters who are somewhat immature and loutish, needs the adoration of his public? Is it because the original was directed by May, who didn’t feel the need to filter her portrayal of male selfishness, while the Farrellys empathize too much with their protagonist’s dilemma?

Maybe it’s just that mainstream cinema has gotten so anti-woman that it’s OK to make a movie where the hero can justify not having married a woman because she thought “the gopher in ‘Caddyshack’ looked fake,” while making all the female characters shrews, whores or perfect little goddesses.

In any event, it’s impossible to entirely dismiss the new “Heartbreak Kid” because it does indeed deliver on the laughs, both on a verbal (a gym coach refers to marijuana as “the devil’s lettuce”) and physical (if you didn’t already know how to cure a jellyfish sting, you will now) level. You’ll just feel guilty later when you realize that you gave your empathy to a character who doesn’t deserve it.

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Photos: Ben Stiller

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  1. NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 24: Naomi Watts and Ben Stiller film "While We Were Young" on September 24, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Steve Sands/Getty Images) (Steve Sands / Getty Images Contributor) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 07: Actor Ben Stiller (R) and actress Christine Taylor (2nd R) talks with wheelchair tennis players David Wagner (3rd L), Esther Vergeer (L) and Nick Taylor (2nd L) on Day Thirteen of the 2013 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 7, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Jaime L. Mikle/Getty Images for the USTA) (Jaime L. Mikle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 01: Andy Murray of Great Britain speaks with actor Ben Stiller on Day Seven of the 2013 US Open at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 1, 2013 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images) (Clive Brunskill / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. This film image released by 20th Century Fox shows actor and director Ben Stiller on the set of "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty." (AP Photo/20th Century Fox, Wilson Webb) (Wilson Webb / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Talking to Hawkeye

    Alan Alda and Ben Stiller film a scene for the 2011 film "Tower Heist" at the Trump International Hotel in New York. In the film, a group of maintenance workers plan a heist in a skyscraper. Born into a Hollywood family, Stiller has carved out a long entertainment resume that covers movies, television and the Broadway stage. (Ray Tamarra / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Gotta support the team

    Stiller, wife Christine Taylor, and children Ella and Quinlin watch the game between the New York Knicks and the Philadelphia 76ers at Madison Square Garden on February 6, 2011 in New York. (Chris Trotman / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. New generation

    In 2010, Stiller starred in "LIttle Fockers," where his character from the first two films is now a hapless dad of twins. (Universal Studios) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. His blue period

    Stiller, dressed as a character from the film "Avatar," presents the award for best make up during the 82nd Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, Calif., on March 7, 2010. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Fair game

    Stiller and Taylor attend the 2010 Vanity Fair Oscar party in West Hollywood, Calif., on March 7, 2010. (Danny Moloshok / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Meet 'Greenberg'

    In 2009's "Greenberg," Stiller plays Roger Greenberg, a guy pausing at mid-life to lick his wounds, heal some old rifts and maybe open a few new ones. (Wilson Webb / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Fan favorite

    Stiller signs autographs before the screening of "Greenberg" at the 60th Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin, Germany, on Feb. 14, 2010. (Christian Charisius / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Career in hip-hop?

    Stiller, left, sports a Joaquin Phoenix-inspired beard while presenting an award with Natalie Portman at the 81st Annual Academy Awards in Los Angeles on Feb. 22, 2009. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Another history lesson

    Larry Daley (Stiller) gets a helping hand from a statue of Abraham Lincoln, which has magically come to life in The Lincoln Memorial in the 2009 film "A Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian." Amy Adams also stars in the sequel as Amelia Earhart. (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. All in the family

    Stiller and Taylor are flanked by his parents, Anne Meara and Jerry Stiller, at an event to honor the younger actor hosted by the Museum of the Moving Image in New York on Nov. 12, 2008. (Stephen Lovekin / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Three stooges

    Stiller, center, and co-stars Robert Downey Jr, left, and Jack Black attend the British premiere of "Tropic Thunder" at London's Odeon cinema, Leicester Square, on Sept. 16, 2008. (Dave Hogan / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Welcome to the jungle

    In the 2008 action-comedy "Tropic Thunder," Stiller plays pampered action superstar Tugg Speedman, who is cast in the biggest, most expensive war movie ever produced. He sets out to Southeast Asia with a "Who's Who" of celebrity co-stars. (DreamWorks Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Animal instincts

    Stiller voices Alex the Lion in "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa," the 2008 sequel to the 2005 animated hit. The film follows the continued adventures of Alex and his New York Zoo pals. (DreamWorks Animation) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Broken on arrival

    Stiller reteamed with the Farrelly brothers for the 2007 remake of 1972's "The Heartbreak Kid." Unfortunately for Stiller, it was the actor who ended up with heartbreak. The movie debuted at No. 2, bringing in just $14 million on its opening weekend. (DreamWorks Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Nightly earnings

    Though Stiller's 2006 film "Night at the Museum," about a divorced dad trying to impress his son as a night watchman at the Museum of Natural History, received poor reviews, it earned more than $115 million in 10 days. (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Hugging it out

    Stiller and Owen Wilson teamed up again for the 2004 comedy "Starsky & Hutch," a spoof remake of the original 1970s TV series. Rapper and actor Snoop Dogg played their savvy street informant, Huggy Bear. (Warner Bros.) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. A bite of fun

    Stiller and Chris Rock, co-stars in the 2005 computer-animated children's film "Madagascar," joke around with stuffed animals of their characters during a press junket in Paris. (Francois Durand / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Love at the movies

    Stiller and Taylor attended the Seventh Annual Project A.L.S. New York City Gala in 2004. The two met while filming a never-broadcast TV pilot and starred together in "Zoolander" and "Dodgeball." (Evan Agostini / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Pooh-poohed

    The 2004 comedy "Envy" was one of the biggest flops of the year. Starring Amy Poehler, Jack Black, Stiller and Rachel Weisz, the plot revolved around the invention of a spray that made dog poo disappear. The film was universally panned, and DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg reportedly apologized for the lackluster flick. (Dreamworks Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Along came the money

    In 2004's "Along Came Polly," Stiller portrayed risk-averse Reuben Feffer, whose wife dumps him on their honeymoon for a scuba instructor. Though it received bad reviews, the movie had the last laugh, bringing in about double its budget. (Universal Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Aiming for success

    2004 was one of Stiller's busiest years. It included the hit "Dodgeball," which also starred funnyman Vince Vaughn. In it, Stiller played White Goodman, the egomaniacal owner of a gym who challenges Vaughn's Peter La Fleur to a dodgeball match. The film hit the target, bringing in more than $110 million. (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Not-so-perfect home

    In 2003, Stiller starred with Drew Barrymore as a young yuppie couple who find the seemingly perfect home in "Duplex." The film was widely panned and made just under $10 million domestically. Barrymore was even nominated for a Razzie. (Miramax Films) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Looking pretty

    In 2001, two short films directed and co-written by Stiller about Derek Zoolander, a dimwitted male model, were brought to the big screen as the comedy "Zoolander." The character got his start during a spoof during the 1996 VH1 Fashion Awards Show. Stiller played the looks-obsessed Zoolander, and the film went on to become a bit of a cult hit after a lackluster box office performance. (Paramount) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Shavings of success

    Stiller starred as Chas Tenenbaum in 2001's Oscar-nominated dark comedy, "The Royal Tenenbaums," which was co-written by his friend Owen Wilson. In the film, Chas is a math and business genius who becomes overly protective of his two children (Grant Rosenmeyer and Jonah Meyerson) after his wife dies in a plane crash. (Buena Vista Pictures via Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Amped up for a hit

    Stiller starred alongside Robert De Niro in the 2000 comedy "Meet the Parents." Stiller played Gaylord "Greg" Focker, a man meeting his fiancee's family for the first time. De Niro played the soon-to-be father-in-law, who is a former CIA agent. (Universal Pictures via Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Suited for giggles

    Stiller starred as Mr. Furious in the 1999 superhero spoof "Mystery Men," which once again had him working with Janeane Garofalo (as The Bowler). Also starring were (from left to right) Kel Mitchell (as Invisible Boy), Wes Studi (as The Sphinx), William H. Macy (as The Shoveler), Paul Reubens (as The Spleen) and Hank Azaria (as The Blue Raja; far right). (Universal Studios) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Rolling out a hit

    In the Farrelly brothers' 1998 hit comedy, "There's Something About Mary," Stiller's character reunites with his high-school crush (played by Cameron Diaz), who was his prom date until an unfortunate zipper accident sent him to the hospital rather than the dance. (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. On the other side

    Stiller got behind the camera in his directorial debut with the 1994 film "Reality Bites." Stiller also co-starred in the film as Michael Grates, alongside Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke, Renee Zellweger and his "The Ben Stiller Show" co-star Janeane Garofalo. (Universal Pictures via Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. He's a winner!

    Stiller got the last laugh when he won an Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Variety Series for the "The Ben Stiller Show" in 1993. (Ron Galella / WireImage) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Rising star

    Stiller (bottom left) starred as Dainty, an American prisoner, in the 1987 Steven Spielberg film "Empire of the Sun." The role was his big-screen debut. (Warner Bros. Pictures via Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. A blue beginning

    John Mahoney, Swoosie Kurtz and Stiller starred in John Guare's 1987 TV movie "House of Blue Leaves," with Stiller playing Ronnie Shaughnessy, a Vietnam-bound soldier. In the 2011 revival, Stiller plays Ronnie's father. (Wireimage) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Bottom of the pack

    "The Ben Stiller Show," a sketch comedy show that also starred one-time girlfriend Janeane Garofalo (left), Bob Odenkirk (top) and Andy Dick (bottom), ran for 12 episodes on the Fox network in 1992-1993. It regularly hit near last place in the Nielsens. After its cancellation, the show won the Emmy for comedy writing, beating out "Saturday Night Live," "In Living Color" and "The Edge." (Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Like father like son

    Jerry Stiller and son Ben in 1978. Ben would later follow in his father's footsteps and venture into acting, with Jerry making cameos in several of his son's films. (Ron Galella / WireImage) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 05: (L-R) Kristen Wiig, Ben Stiller, Christine Taylor and Adam Scott attend the Centerpiece Gala Presentation Of "The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty" during the 51st New York Film Festival at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center on October 5, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images) (Stephen Lovekin / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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