It's another comedy in aggressively bad taste by the Farrelly brothers, after Dumb and Dumber, Kingpin and There's Something About Mary. I found it unpleasant and nearly turned it off several times, but I ended up respecting its disregard of normal Hollywood rules.
It stars Jim Carrey as a mild-mannered Rhode Island state trooper who spends the film's first twenty minutes being dumped on. There's a narrator, which I suspect might be because this first act is sufficiently distasteful that the audience needed some distance to be able to enjoy it. Carrey just takes it all with a smile on his face, until eventually he snaps and develops a split personality. Nice Carrey is called Charlie. Evil Carrey calls himself Hank.
So far, nothing we can't live with. The problem is simply the Farrellys' idea of what's funny. Remember the budgie in Dumb and Dumber? I have to presume that some were entertained by that, but to me it looked like cruelty in lieu of humour. The film had simply decided to be nasty. Here, there's a whole bunch more like that. Sometimes it works, so for instance I was amused by the hypersensitive black dwarf scene even though I didn't like it. The cow-killing though I didn't see the point of, for example. Why is it in this film? I can't see a joke. People suffer abuse for no reason. This is a distasteful world to visit, with the Farrellys being practically Korean in the sadism that's inherent in how their universe works. Watching their film is like taking a shower in engine oil.
This was advertised in America as the most 'unpolitically-correct movie ever'. Not true, but it's in with a shout if you're only looking at mainstream Hollywood releases.
However that said, this unrelenting meanness has an upside. The Farrellys' storytelling is anti-heroic, for instance, which means they're questioning your usual movie-going assumptions. Shouldn't Hank have been like Michael Douglas in Falling Down? He's a cop with an evil streak, who goes around overreacting to every tiny annoyance. You'd expect this to be right-wing catharsis for all the neanderthals in the audience, in which we cheer on the bad guy as he deals out richly deserved punishments to scum... but no. Hank's a screw-up. He's pathetic. He can torture little girls, but he's a klutz in any situation that matters and his failure rate is 100%. I can respect that storytelling choice.
Obstacles that any other movie hero would overcome without even thinking about it are liable to flatten Carrey. A sour, ugly ending looks almost more likely than a happy one. Whatever your comfort zone might be, this movie will try to push you out of it.
I have niggles, though.
1. Carrey has three black sons who aren't his, in a homage to an Andy Kaufman skit on Late Night with David Letterman. To achieve this, the movie has his wife cheat on him with another man and then run off with him. Okay. Not nice, but okay. However why do the boys' biological parents not bother to take their children, instead abandoning them to a guy who's about to develop psychological problems?
2. Is it realistic for a cop to be that useless in combat situations?
3. The supporting characters aren't great. Renee Zellweger isn't memorable, while the villains are so identikit and badly introduced that I had trouble telling them apart.
4. The bit in the last act where they ask Carrey to do the impossible doesn't work as well as it could, I think. Compare with Bruce Campbell in Evil Dead 2. I'd have appreciated more clarity when we're still coming to terms with what we're seeing, although I think the fault is more in the direction than the performance.
Jim Carrey is magnificent, though. He's easily the best thing about the film and he's learned how to harness that astonishing energy he has as a performer. The Mask was a cartoon. This isn't. No matter how bad things got, I always enjoyed watching Carrey and sometimes he'll pull laughs out of nowhere. His "unbelievable cottonmouth" has to be seen to be believed. He's adorable as Charlie and even manages to be kind of likeable as Hank, despite the fact that Charlie is a doormat and Hank is cruel, offensive and pathetic.
Don't believe anyone who says that this has a bad plot or bad performances. Those people simply mean that they didn't enjoy watching the movie. I can understand that. I had trouble with it too. The Farrellys' humour is surrounded with barbed wire and adorned with the corpses of those who tried and failed to detect a joke. Sometimes I laughed. The chicken egg is a good one, for instance. The movie's hit rate isn't zero. However with a comedy, you'd expect to be able to tell that they're meant to be amusing even when you don't happen to be chuckling. I get the impression that the Farrellys' jokes are aiming either to make you laugh or to make you shudder in disgust as you turn off your television. If this film doesn't work for you, it might instead be a train wreck. I wouldn't expect much middle ground.
"I repeat: price check on Vagiclean, aisle five. That's Vagiclean. We've got a customer down here with a full-on fallopian fungus. She's baking a loaf of bread and I think it's sourdough."