If “Say It Isn’t So” proves anything, it’s that there’s a difference between a degradation comedy written and directed by the Farrelly brothers, and one only produced by them. Lacking both the outrageous excess and peculiar sense of timing and casting of such Farrelly gems as “Kingpin” and “There’s Something About Mary,” new pic about a sweet guy wrongly pegged as the brother of the gal he’s about to marry begins with a classic farcical premise and ends up self-destructing with one unfunny section after another. Although this poor cousin lacks that one choice moment of outrage that makes such films must-sees, built-in auds for this brand of yucky yucks indicates a strong opening and sustained early spring numbers.
Though written as a spec script, the work by writers Peter Gaulke and Gerry Swallow closely adheres to the Farrelly formula of sending good-hearted folk into a world of disaster, punctuated by the constant drumbeat of poking fun at people’s (and animal’s) body parts.
Helmer J.B. Rogers has graduated from the Farrellys’ assistant director post, and while he’s technically ready for the assignment, he doesn’t yet have that certain touch that can make the difference in gross-out comedy between laughs and stone silence.
He is also surely not helped by the fact that the sub-genre’s shock effect is starting to fade through over-familiarity, along with the sense that the laundry list of pieces of anatomy and bodily functions exploited for mirth has been pretty much used up.
Oozing American Heartland appeal, orphaned nice guy Gilly Noble (Chris Klein) works as an animal control worker in Shelbyville, Ind., and simply yearns for a woman who gives him “goosebumps.”
He soon discovers just that woman in Jo (Heather Graham), a local who’s working in a hair salon while back in town from Beaver, Ore., as her dad recovers from a stroke. She’s a klutz with hair-cutting devices, but nursing Gilly back to health after slicing off the top of his right ear leads to six months of courting and true love.
Things couldn’t be going better for Gilly, which means that things are about to get nasty. Jo turns out to be the near-angelic offspring of the progenitors from hell: Sleazy Valdine (Sally Field), who views Gilly as a loser and wants Jo to marry Jack (Eddie Cibrian), the richest man in Beaver, and bitter Walter (Richard Jenkins), whose severe stroke forces him to speak through an electronic device that makes him sound like a drunk, foul-mouthed robot.
Vic (Brent Briscoe), a PI whom Gilly has hired to search for his birth mom, then reports the big news: His mom is Valdine, which Gilly learns soon after making love to Jo.
Repulsed, Jo logically leaves for Jack in the Northwest, while Gilly illogically remains in Shelbyville, the butt of many jokes. Up to here, the comedy maintains a nice balance between stupid and sweet, but with the contrived arrival out of the blue of Valdine’s actual birth son, Leon (Jack Plotnick), “Say It Isn’t So” turns into a comic odyssey of rapidly diminishing returns.
Gilly hustles to Oregon in order to tell Jo about the mix-up, but not before Valdine conspires to alert Beaver’s cops that Gilly is a sex pervert and Jo that her former b.f. is delusional.
In another convenient plot device, Gilly runs his truck into airplane pilot Dig McCaffey (Orlando Jones), a paraplegic with artificial legs who turns out to be Gilly’s only ally in Beaver.
Even dumb farce has to be built on logic, but that crumbles in the face of a set of tired routines playing off of stock types ranging from Jack’s rich-guy evil glint to his country hick brother Jimmy (Mark Pellegrino) and fellow hicks who make a nightmare of Gilly’s visit to Beaver.
The entire situation rests on Gilly not being able to contact Leon — and thus prove himself to Jo — but when the real son arrives with Valdine and Walter for the wedding, the script strains to the breaking point in denying Gilly his just due until the last moment.
So much of this kind of business rests on thesps being able to handle the extremes of physical comedy, and a director who can finesse it along, and it’s here that pic is especially wanting.
Klein is becoming the poster boy for down-home guilelessness, but though he’s a trouper while enduring endless volleys of abuse, he doesn’t have the additional quality of slow-burning outrage that Ben Stiller has brought to similar, albeit unWASPy, characters.
Slotted into an especially restricted role, Graham is allowed to merely react (mostly by pinching her lips) to Gilly’s mounting dilemmas.
Field takes the kind of risky, image-altering leap into black comedy that Mary Tyler Moore did in “Flirting With Disaster.” In the abstract, it’s an admirably gutsy move, but the spectacle of Field going trashy soon turns from giddy delight to glum embarrassment.
Seemingly happy as he settles into a career of playing googly-eyed goofs, Jones punches the clock. Jenkins leads a cast of supporting clowns mostly cast for their facial exaggerations, while Suzanne Somers makes an uncredited entry in the weak finale.
Production qualities are generally smooth in a shoot that split between L.A. and British Columbia locations, but some antics (particularly one anal joke involving an obviously mechanical cow) are carelessly crafted.