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It may be time to aim higher

[Photo: 20th Century Fox ]
Jim Carrey and Renee Zellweger lean over a table in Me, Myself and Irene; the movie’s plot revolves around their romance, which actually involves more than a twosome.

By STEVE PERSALL, Times Film Critic

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 23, 2000

Me, Myself and Irene is a movie that will make you laugh, even amid the embarrassment it triggers. But a glittering hardness may live where this movie needs a heart; maybe it needs to balance comedy with caring.

The guy wearing the lampshade at a party always comes to that uneasy moment when the joke goes too far. Peter and Bobby Farrelly, who love billing themselves as "those pesky Farrelly brothers," may have reached that point with Me, Myself & Irene.

This is not a complaint about the Farrellys' trademark tastelessness, although this movie takes more liberties than its predecessors. Some hilarious gags erupt in Me, Myself & Irene, but this time that's all there is. The wistful counterbalance making There's Something About Mary and Kingpin special is missing. If you didn't laugh, this movie would want to mug you outside the theater.

There's Something About Mary certainly was rude, crude and lewd, yet with an undeniable sweetness underneath. Pinching the hero's genitals in his pants zipper was another reason to hope for his happy ending. Mary was sexy, saintly, modest about both qualities, and we still laughed at her choice of hair gel. Ugly behavior was buoyed by everybody's best intentions. You could almost see the theater screen bending into a smile.

Me, Myself & Irene is more like a grimace, although it must be noted that extreme pain and indignity have been surefire comedic tools since The Three Stooges. The Farrellys set up every character to slip on figurative banana peels and rarely make anyone worth helping get up off the floor.

The title characters can be summed up in order: Meek, belligerent and dull. The saving grace for Me, Myself & Irene is that Jim Carrey plays the first two roles. Carrey and his extraordinary physical dexterity are perfect for playing two-thirds of a bizarre love triangle.

"Me" is Charlie Baileygates, a Rhode Island state trooper and chronic pushover who develops a personality disorder after his wife deserts him for an African-American dwarf chauffeur. Charlie is the guy who never complains about the neighbor's dog defecating on his lawn. He's Truman Burbank with a badge, nearly too bland for these surroundings.

"Myself" is Hank, the embodiment of every emotion Charlie has suppressed, especially anger. Hank is the guy who defecates on the neighbor's lawn in retaliation. Carrey's face tightens into a blunt instrument and his voice lowers to a rasp that would give Clint Eastwood the willies. This half of the performance is the best reason to see Me, Myself & Irene.

Psychologists will complain about the loose use of terms such as "schizophrenia" and "multiple personality" to describe Charlie's condition. They can stand in line with all other offended special interest groups. PETA will gripe about the scene when Charlie/Hank pumps six bullets into a cow. Anybody speaking up for albinos and breast-feeders will wait their turn.

Introducing Irene Waters to the mix is an unavoidable mistake. Nothing against Renee Zellweger and her crinkle-eyed appeal but this role is bland, more plot trouble than it's worth. Irene is a traffic offender Charlie is assigned to return to upstate New York, allowing the Farrellys to employ their favorite device, the road trip.

Fair enough. It worked well in Dumb and Dumber, Kingpin and There's Something About Mary. This time, the filmmakers are compelled to introduce danger to the formula with a lame crime subplot. Irene knows something about some environmental scandal that never is explained. A crooked cop (Chris Cooper) and her former boyfriend involved with the case want to silence her permanently.

That stuff is a nuisance. The purpose of this movie is Charlie's crush on Irene and what Hank can do to muck it up. These standard action devices are clumsy excuses to keep everybody moving.

The Farrellys' films usually are packed with scene-stealing supporting roles, such as Bill Murray in Kingpin, Harland Williams in There's Something About Mary or Lin Shaye in almost anything they made. Me, Myself & Irene is lacking in this regard, another sign that rewrites were in order.

The only breakouts here are Charlie's triplet sons in name and affection only. They're actually African-Americans resulting from his wife's affair. It's a sight gag escalating into overused absurdity when they grow up into Ivy League candidates debating physics and speaking German with uninhibited obscenity. Are the Farrellys poking fun at the idea of intelligent black people or hip-hop profanity? The Farrelly brothers don't care as long as we laugh.

Me, Myself & Irene can making a viewer ashamed to do that. Or perhaps you sense some higher artistic merit in seeing a man with a chicken crammed where a chicken shouldn't be. That unpleasant sight is forever committed to memory. But who really wants to remember, or use it to describe in mixed company why you enjoy this movie?

Whether they like it or not, the Farrellys should realize that more is expected of them now than uncontrollable urination and playing Joker race cards. Pushing the envelope is easy. Pulling an audience into cherishing cruelty is hard. They can remain tasteless, and we can still enjoy them. Just as long as they peek out from under that lampshade once in a while and give us a little wink.

Me, Myself & Irene

  • Grade: B-
  • Directors: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly
  • Cast: Jim Carrey, Renee Zellweger, Chris Cooper, Robert Forster, Richard Jenkins
  • Screenplay: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly, Mike Cerrone
  • Rating: R; profanity, violence, sexual situations
  • Running time: 115 min.

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