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There's Something About Mary (1998)

Directed by Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly

The "something" about Mary is actually three things:

1. she's beautiful

2. she's rich

3. she loves sports

There's Something About Mary (1998) -- high school

Basically, these are the three criteria that most men list as they mentally construct their dream woman while they lean over their fifth beer of the evening. Mary is played by Cameron Diaz. This satisfies number one on the list, but she won't be up for Best Actress at the Academy Awards (TM) anytime soon. She does, however, do a nice job of prettying up this non-stop assault on your inner adolescent.

There's Something About Mary (1998) -- Cameron Diaz

This is the latest offering by Bobby and Peter Farrelly, who brought us "Dumb & Dumber." This release is being promoted as "The 'Animal House' of the 90's!". This is misleading at best. For starters, "Animal House" was an all-out frat romp. It also had John Belushi, whose sole purpose was to disgust and alienate every uppity, stiff collared, elitist aristocrat he could find. "There's Something About Mary" is about what happens after you go through your high school and college years and come out on the other side. Where "Animal House" was just juvenile guys doing juvenile things, the characters in "There's Something" are just as often the victims as the villains.

Ben Stiller (about as far from Belushi as you can get) plays the geeky high school guy who gets asked to the Senior Prom by Mary, who took a liking to him after he saved her mentally handicapped brother from the school's resident jock/bully, who is also Mary's soon to be ex-boyfriend. On the big night, Stiller gets one of his "boys" caught in the zipper of his pants while in the bathroom at Mary's house. The dream date is over before it has even begun: no Prom, no nothin'.

The movie does a fast-forward thirteen years to the present day - Stiller's character has grown up and lost his braces, but he hasn't lost his feelings for Mary. His hive-plagued best friend, played by Chris Elliott, hooks him up with a slimeball insurance investigator named Pat Healy (Matt Dillon), who takes on the job of tracking Mary down. The problems begin when Healy, while spying on Mary, falls in love with her too, and tries to throw Stiller off the trail so he can have her for his very own.

There's Something About Mary (1998) -- Matt Dillon

The big surprise is that the promos for the movie don't just show the few really funny scenes the movie has to offer. In fact, they're just the tip of the iceberg. There are big, lung-ejecting laughs from end to end. The gags are spaced just right: just when you think there will be a lull, you're blind-sided by the next side-splitter.

I have to admit that since I don't care much for sports, the athletic ability of Mary meant far less to me than the average male. When she looks into Stiller's eyes and says "Do you want to watch SportsCenter?", I thought "big deal," although I could almost hear the other men in the audience salivating. Another aspect of Mary that fits into every man's fantasy is that she's rich.....by way of being a surgeon. This is asking a lot of the audience. Cameron Diaz? A surgeon?

I could have let this go, but for some reason we are subjected to seeing "Doctor" Mary in her "doctor's" office and saying "doctor" things like "I have a great practice." I'll bet that it took a script coach the better part of a lunch time to explain the meaning of that line (Diaz: But don't they practice in SCHOOL?).

On the other hand, I did learn a couple of things while watching Diaz in a scene that takes place at a driving range:

1. she doesn't need a golf double.

2. she taught me the importance of hip rotation in one's swing.

You may walk out of the theater thinking that the story line is a thin veil for the merciless portrayals of the physically and mentally challenged, or retards, as Pat Healy refers to them. Between the scene's of Mary's brother, the other residents at the institution where he lives, and Mary's erudite architect friend, Patrick, who relies on crutches to get around, it's hard to imagine that nobody chose to axe every scene showing our differently abled brethren, but they remain intact in all their un-P.C. glory.

The two strengths of the movie are it's pacing and it's ability to catch you off guard repeatedly. Even during the scenes where you can see the punch line coming from a mile away, the anticipation of how it will be delivered makes it work. What this movie is not is a character study.

There is only enough revealed about each character to get the story rolling. There are no revelations, no lessons learned, no greater meaning discovered, unless you count Jonathan Richman getting shot. Did somebody say "hair gel"? -- Rating: $8.60

Mike Santoro -- copyright 1998

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