There’s Something About Mary

Scenes so outrageous that they will have auds busting their guts with laughter and talking about them for the rest of the summer. Add the disarmingly game and gorgeous Cameron Diaz, and the result is a wildly commercial comic cocktail from Peter and Bobby Farrelly that could easily surpass the cosmic B.O. of their first film, "Dumb and Dumber."

First there’s the cojones-caught-in-the-zipper scene. Then there’s the dog-on-sedative scene, the hair gel scene, the dog-on-speed scene and the fish hook scene. Five scenes altogether, mixed with liberal doses of retard humor and lampooning of gay sex and serial murder, but scenes so outrageous that they will have audiences busting their guts with laughter and talking about them for the rest of the summer. Add the disarmingly game and gorgeous Cameron Diaz, and the result is a wildly commercial comic cocktail from Peter and Bobby Farrelly that could easily surpass the cosmic B.O. of their first film, “Dumb and Dumber.”

Crudely made, somewhat overlong and larded with plenty of things that don’t work, pic stands as proof positive that a comedy can be far from perfect and still hit the bull’s-eye if it delivers when it counts in its big scenes. And deliver it does, in episodes and a general outlook of spectacular irreverence, rudeness and cheek.

Twenty-minute, 1985-set prologue intros Ted (Ben Stiller), a geeky teen in small-town Rhode Island who, after he defends the retarded Warren (W. Earl Brown) against a bully, is asked by Warren’s grateful sister, Mary (Cameron Diaz), to the senior prom. Since Mary is the class knockout, Ted can’t wait to show up his buddies who refuse to believe his luck.

But Ted and Mary never make it to the dance. Instead, Ted has the gross misfortune of catching his private parts in his pants zipper, and resulting action develops into something akin to a modern version of the stateroom scene in “A Night at the Opera,” as a succession of people, beginning with Mary’s stepfather and ending with the local fire department, converge on the bathroom to gape in astonishment at Ted’s painful predicament. You don’t really expect to see the gruesome sight onscreen, but when a close-up of it is pushed in your face, pic hits a peak of grossness and, yes, hilarity, that it is amazingly able to top later on.

Thirteen years later, a depressed Ted is still mooning about what might have been with Mary, so much so that he hires a sleazy private dick, Pat Healy (Matt Dillon), to find her. But when Pat lays eyes on Mary in Miami and sees that she’s not only a sexy babe who loves sports but is unattached, he reports back to Ted that his inamorata now weighs 200 pounds and is confined to a wheelchair in a housing project, and sets his sights on her himself.

Pic coasts along in third gear for a while, as Pat uses his professional listening devices to learn everything he can about Mary, then uses the information to his own advantage in courting her. Breezy and open person that she is, Mary begins falling for the conmeister when he tells her he loves golf, has been to Nepal, is an architect and likes nothing better than taking care of the retarded — he knows Mary broke up with her former boyfriend when the guy confessed to someone else that he hated her brother Warren, to whom she is utterly devoted.

But just as Pat is getting his foot in the door, a process that at one point involves sedating the beloved dog of Mary’s withered old roommate, Magda (a very funny and absurdly tan Lin Shaye), and then uproariously trying to revive it from rigor mortis, Ted hears that Mary is still a fox after all and heads for Miami to check her out for himself.

In a digression that may prove offensive to some, Ted is arrested in a sweep of lots of men having sex at a highway rest stop and, thanks to the mutilated body a hitchhiker has left in his car, is charged with murder.

It takes Ted some time to get out of that jam, while Mary falls in love with Pat when she hears him painfully confess that he’s been lying to her all along. But, when Ted and Mary “accidentally” run into each other for the first time since the aborted prom date, she’s willing to go out with him, setting up the hair gel scene that is best not described but instantly takes its place in the annals of side-splitting gross-out comedy.

Possibly surpassing even that seg in intensity of yocks is another scene with Magda’s dog, which this time consumes speed, encased in cookies, to its great peril. Much of the silliness is of a physically brutal, Three Stooges variety and involves crossing many lines of expectation and taste. But the sense of violation becomes explosively liberating in audience terms, which would seem to be the secret of the Farrellys’ success.

Eventually, seemingly every guy who’s ever had a thing for Mary (one of them is Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre) ends up in her apartment, forcing her to make a choice from among a pretty weird bunch.

The notably despoiling circumstances and surroundings notwithstanding, the ready-for-anything Diaz is dazzling throughout. Sexy, insouciant and always a good sport, her character will be all the more appealing to many guys because she’s a jock who at one point asks her date, “Hey, you want to go upstairs and watch SportsCenter?” What a gal.

In a character far more subject to deep and unending humiliation, Stiller cuts an amusingly forlorn figure. More problematic is Dillon’s Pat; sporting a thin mustache that makes him vaguely resemble Burt Reynolds at his most deliberately insincere, thesp has a role so creepy it makes one cringe whenever he even gets close to Mary. Pat is also so unconvincing at what he claims to be that it makes Mary look excessively stupid for believ-ing him as long as she does.

Among the energetic supporting cast, Chris Elliott stands out as Ted’s lifelong buddy who develops an egregious case of skin blotches.

Film is technically rough around the edges, but it doesn’t matter in the least. Action is amusingly framed and sporadically commented upon by the musical notations of alternative singer Jonathan Richman.

There’s Something About Mary

Romantic comedy

  • Production: A 20th Century Fox release. Produced by Frank Beddor, Michael Steinberg, Charles B. Wessler, Bradley Thomas. Executive producers, Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly. Co-producers, Marc S. Fischer, James B. Rogers. Directed by Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly. Screenplay, Ed Decter, John J. Strauss, Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly, story by Decter, Strauss.
  • Crew: Camera (color), Mark Irwin; editor, Christopher Greenbury; music, Jonathan Richman; music supervisors, Happy Walters, Tom Wolfe; art director, Arlan Jay Vetter; visual consultant, Sidney J. Bartholomew Jr.; costume designer, Mary Zophres; sound (Dolby digital), Earl Stein; associate producers, Mark Charpentier, Patrick Healy; assistant director, James B. Rogers; casting, Rick Montgomery. Reviewed at the Exchange, Glendale, June 27, 1998. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 118 MIN.
  • With: Mary Jenson - Cameron Diaz Pat Healy - Matt Dillon Ted Stroehmann - Ben Stiller Tucker - Lee Evans Dom - Chris Elliott Magda - Lin Shaye Sully - Jeffrey Tambor Mary's Mom - Markie Post Mary's Stepfather - Keith David Warren - W. Earl Brown Jonathan - Jonathan Richman Brett Favre - himself
  • Music By: