The laughs roll out by the handfuls in “Me, Myself & Irene,” even if they aren’t quite as convulsive or surprising as the public might be hoping for in this highly anticipated match-up of Jim Carrey and the Farrelly brothers. With Carrey playing the “dual” role of a Rhode Island state trooper with a split personality, the generation’s most physical and elastic comic actor has endless opportunities to strut his stuff. Funny as much of the action is, however, the approach feels rather less fresh, and the gross-outs seem more gratuitous, than in “There’s Something About Mary.” But such gradations will mean little at the B.O., with Fox’s big summer comedy destined to keep audiences happy and piling into theaters for weeks and weeks.
The biggest surprise is that it’s neither Carrey nor the Farrellys that people will be talking about most after seeing the movie. Walking away with hilarity honors are the three young performers — Anthony Anderson, Mongo Brownlee and Jerod Mixon — who play Carrey’s three outsize, street-talking, Ivy League-destined black sons. Despite their vulgarity, these fabulously written characters are by far the sweetest people onscreen.
Originally written a decade ago and refreshed after Carrey signed on, tale is set on Farrelly home turf of Rhode Island and, like “Mary,” intros its main character in his youth. When he was a tyro motorcycle cop, Charlie (Carrey) married his sweetheart, who promptly hooked up with a black midget limo driver (a pugnacious Tony Cox) and produced male triplets. This was merely the first of many indignities stoically endured by the sweet-natured Charlie, who was then abandoned to raise the three boys in his tiny house by the shore.
Once they’re 18, Jamaal, Lee Harvey and Shonte Jr. dwarf their dad, and their impudent, obscene lingo applied to discussions of algebraic equations and other brainy conundrums is as funny as their loving, obedient manner with their father is endearing (they readily consent to his cheerful admonition upon leaving for work, “No bitches in the room after 11!”).
The setup is designed to paint Charlie as the ultimate pushover; even a little girl jumping rope on the street tells him to get lost when he has the temerity to suggest that she move to the safety of the sidewalk. So his transformation, after 25 minutes, into a psychopathically vengeful cop named Hank — his “other,” heretofore pent-up self — carries with it the initial satisfaction of a corrective settling of scores after enduring decades of wimpdom.
Carrey handles the changeover with some of his patented plastic-skinned face-making, plus the addition of an exaggerated Dirty Harry vocal sneer (Carrey appeared in the final Dirty Harry entry, “The Dead Pool”). But Hank disappears as suddenly as he materialized, and Charlie is soon diagnosed with a case of “advanced delusionary schizophrenia with involuntary narcissistic rage” and is assigned the routine task of escorting a young lady named Irene (Renee Zellweger) back to upstate New York, where investigators are waiting to question her in regard to a local fraud and embezzlement case involving her ex-boyfriend and boss.
Thus begins the odyssey of Charlie, Hank and Irene, which is quickly transformed from an innocuous road trip into an adventure on the lam when crooked New York cops and Charlie’s concerned Rhode Island colleagues, accompanied by his three sons, separately start pursuing the couple.
Charlie, of course, is nice and respectful of Irene, but Hank spoils everything with his vile and violent behavior; he picks fights, especially with kids, and makes fun of a meek albino waiter (Michael Bowman) in a health food restaurant before apologizing and inviting him along.
Soon the gap between Charlie and Hank closes to the point where they are almost constantly vying for supremacy. Things get weird and kinky in a motel room, and gags involving a dildo, Charlie’s sore rear end, a bathroom wall and a chicken shoved where the sun don’t shine are best experienced, not explained.
Inevitably, Charlie and Hank must have a showdown, and this epic tussle, in which Carrey fights with himself, is meant to be the star’s big comic set piece. While amusing enough, it’s not very effectively staged (at the Providence train station), goes on too long and doesn’t measure up to the great bathroom sequence in “Liar Liar” in which Carrey tried to beat himself to a pulp. Fortunately, there’s more to come, including a rude surprise for Charlie when he manfully tries to rescue Irene from her ex on a bridge and the three sons’ theft of a helicopter.
After his impressive turns in two loftier, seriously themed pictures, “The Truman Show” and “Man on the Moon,” Carrey is back in time-tested manic form, for which mainstream audiences will surely be grateful. Alternating his meek and menacing characters with glee, Carrey, who’s decked out with a military-style crewcut, exults in blowing his performances up to a sort of epic comic-book stature, and he gets to do it twice here.
Unfortunately, Zellweger doesn’t match up as a perfect foil. Although Irene is merely a victim of her own gullibility, the character somehow prompts the hitherto delightful actress to reveal a certain harsh and unpleasant side that becomes rather too dominant. Nor is her timing nearly as precise as Carrey’s, so she’s not always in synch with his quicksilver transformations and rapid-fire utterances.
But fortunately, there’s always Anderson, Brownlee and Mixon to take up the slack; their every scene is a raucous delight, and their act never gets old. Bowman also lends a unique presence as Whitey, the albino waiter who goes through more personality phases than does Charlie.
Though not the case in “Mary,” here the Farrellys allow the action to sag from time to time, while their comic aim is not as sure-fire. The really outrageous sexual humor is present, to be sure, but it has a certain dragged-in quality, as if the brothers had a gross-out quota to fill and inserted the penile/rectal/vaginal gags, so to speak, wherever they could.
The musical elements are not as imaginative or organic as they were in their previous outing, while the visual quality is similarly mangy. Viewers should stick around through the end credits so as not to miss a scene after the boilerplate disclaimer and copyright material.