directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly with Gwyneth Paltrow, Jack Black, and Jason Alexander opens Nov. 9 at Metro, Oak Tree, Pacific Place, and others
NO FILMMAKERS show more love for their crew in the actual film than the Farrelly brothers. Continuing an admirable tradition, Shallow Hal's end credits are simply clips and snapshots of gaffers, grips, and their unsung kin goofing around. If only the brothers showed such care with the actual product.
Unfortunately, in Hal, the Farrellys are giving props to the hundreds who helped create the most vile, unmitigated piece-of-shit comedy in, er, months. (Where is the outrage?) High Fidelity spaz Jack Black plays a heel hypnotized to see only people's inner beauty; hence Hal doesn't realize he's dating Gwyneth Paltrow in a fat suit. We knew that much from Hal's wretched trailer, an A-plus synopsis compared to the skid mark of a story that ensues.
Forget the Farrellys' insulting, one-joke premise: championing the human spirit at the expense of obese Rosemary regularly collapsing various pieces of furniture. And forget the piss-poor story logic. Indicating inner beauty with external, magazine-layout looks is bad enough, but only a few random minor characters undergo this visual switcheroo after Black's transformation. Forget it all, because the real problem is, well, Black.
I can see how large cross sections of the populace would rather pummel themselves with frying pans for 90 minutes than spend that time with, say, Tom Green. But at least Green is an original asshole, with a coal-black heart to boot. Black is merely a creepy, charmless buffoon—especially when the Farrellys want us to accept him as sincere. He has no credibility as the straight guy.
Before Hal, the Farrellys produced four raunchy comedies of fairly consistent quality, ranging from Dumb and Dumber to Me, Myself & Irene. Although two were rated PG-13 and two R, each square inch was filled with the same derisive glee that proclaimed, "We can't frame a shot worth a damn, and they're still paying us!" Since the brothers are so visually incompetent (think Kevin Smith), they got by on guts and unadulterated cynicism. For every rare moment in which Jim Carrey had to "emote," we received countless inspired tics of top-grade physical comedy.
Yet Black and Paltrow are saddled with far less interesting characters than There's Something About Mary's Ben Stiller and Cameron Diaz and can't escape the Farrellys' rehashed fat gags. ("She takes the cake? She takes the entire bakery!") Sure, Gwyneth convincingly details hurt beneath the prosthetics, but her comatose, saccharine approach recalls Meg Ryan at her worst.
One highlight, if you must attend: the anatomical abnormality of Hal's best buddy (Jason Alexander). Nothing in even the Farrellys' most gloriously disgusting achievement, Kingpin, beats the tail.