Dumb and Dumber: Carrey’s Both
There are two Jim Carreys in the new gross-out farce Me, Myself & Irene , which does not make it doubly funny, only twice as stupid. This latest idiot-level wallow in sophomoric bad taste and Kindergarten Cinema 101 for the Mentally Challenged from the flatulence factory known as the Farrelly brothers may not be the worst movie of the year (did you see Battlefield Earth ?), but it is undeniably the trashiest.
In the vomitous tradition of every in-your-face Farrelly freak show from Dumb and Dumber to There’s Something About Mary , this assault on the I.Q. knocks itself cross-eyed looking for new ways to shock, annoy and insult everyone in sight, and Mr. Carrey literally knocks himself out cold trying to make you laugh while you retch. Every attempt at comedy backfires like one of Mel Brooks’ baked bean dinners, but you can’t say it isn’t noisy.
Mr. Carrey hits the ground running as Charlie, a mild-mannered Rhode Island state trooper with a split personality disorder. Charlie is such a benign oaf even the dogs in his neighborhood poop when they see him coming. (Lots of close-ups of dog poop, a Farrelly obsession.) He dreams of love, but he has about as much chance of scoring as I have lasting through a season of Survivor wide awake. In the food chain of life, Charlie is a bottom feeder. After his wife gives birth to three black babies and runs away with a black midget, Charlie just loses it. Mr. Carrey’s lips curl inward like a baboon’s, his eyes turn sideways, and he morphs into an aggressive, womanizing goathead named Hank.
In alter-ego mode, Hank suckles a nursing mother on a street corner, drives through a barbershop window with milk on his upper lip, and defecates on a neighbor’s lawn. As long as he remembers to take his medication, he’s a sappy Dr. Jekyll, losing his place in the supermarket line to kids with 400 pounds of Fruit Loops. When he forgets, he turns into a tough, obnoxious Mr. Hyde who addresses females with “Hold on there, Cheese Tits!” and calls an albino waiter a “giant Q-Tip.”
Enter Irene, played by the charming Renée Zellweger, a girl on the lam from a gang of crooks for reasons that are as baffling as everything else in a Farrelly flick. Although the polite, politically correct Charlie is assigned to return her home on the back of his motorcycle, it is the crude, vulgar Hank who roughs her up like a chauvinist pig. Both personalities fall for Irene, causing much mayhem and confusion too raunchy to go into.
Even the deluded twentysomethings who applauded semen hair gel as inspired lunacy in Mary might have trouble with the level of taste in Irene . It’s hard to cough up the same frat-house laughs when Hank goes to bed with a humongous rubber dildo and Charlie wakes up the next morning with a swollen prostate. Mr. Carrey does something nasty with a chicken; degrades lesbians, African-Americans and people in wheelchairs; and rises from his bed with an erection, misses his aim in the bathroom and pees on the walls, all while the groaning audience is expected to hemorrhage with guffaws. Instead, the contrived and relentless assault of sight gags, pratfalls and moron jokes are about as amusing as a swarm of mosquitoes carrying encephalitis to the Hamptons.
When Charlie finally tries to exorcise Hank by choking, socking and slapping himself all over the screen, Mr. Carrey makes Jerry Lewis having a fit seem like a study in subtle self-control. The feisty Ms. Zellweger, too canny to let on for a minute that this is anything but an expense-paid romp, looks like a campfire girl researching a school paper in an S&M bar. With his buzz cut and broken nose, and his face screwed into a permanent grimace, Mr. Carrey often looks uncannily like the Frankenstein monster. To watch him act, you are urged to revisit The Truman Show . To watch him in toilet training, see this fiasco and weep. The toilet figures more prominently in a Farrelly brothers movie than the plot, but in Me, Myself & Irene what you see in the toilet is not only double-ply Charmin. It’s the shreds of Jim Carrey’s wasted career.
The Chicken Who Got Away
Any movie about poultry stands a chance of laying an egg, but Chicken Run is a delightful 85-minute cartoon omelette, low enough in cholesterol to safely fill the needs of any diet. This is The Great Escape set in a chicken coop, created from clay by 40 animators and directed by Peter Lord and Nick Park, the British team responsible for the popular, Oscar-winning Wallace and Grommit shorts. Starring more than 300 chickens with perky personalities and dialogue to match, it’s the goddamnedist thing since Bill and Coo .
Using chicken puppets in stop-motion speed, real props and three-dimensional sets, the film is a wonder to behold, but beyond the remarkable clay figures with their hand-painted feathers, the real thrill is their juxtaposition to the intricate surroundings. There’s even a big musical production number, “Flip, Flop and Fly,” in which a flotilla of plump hens boogie and frug with Rocky the Rhode Island Red, a rooster who cons them into believing he can teach them to fly (the voice of a bemused Mel Gibson). No better synchronization of animation and lovable figures in motion can be found, and a grand time is had by all.
Foreign to such entertainments, there is even a plot. The German concentration camp setting of movies like The Great Escape and Stalag 17 is now a bleak chicken farm in Yorkshire, England, where, if you don’t lay, you end up on toast. The numbered rows of chicken coops under the guard tower are like the barracks at Auschwitz. The jackbooted commandant is a fiercely inhumane old gargoyle named Mrs. Tweedy (Miranda Richardson), solitary confinement is the coal bin, and the dreaded Nazi tanks are now the poultry trucks that come to cart the eggs of the exhausted prisoners to market.
“Chickens are the most stupid creatures on this planet,” screeches the greedy, pernicious Mrs. Tweedy, who hatches her own fascist extermination plot to bolster profits by turning all of the chickens into pies. But there’s not a dumb cluck in the compound, and everyone can relate to the fight for freedom and justice, even in a barnyard. There’s gotta be more to life than laying eggs and getting plucked, stuffed and roasted, declares the prison’s prize hen Ginger (Julia Sawahla from Absolutely Fabulous ), who courageously tries digging a tunnel with a real kitchen fork under the barbed-wire fences, but every escape from the cages of Tweedy’s Farm is thwarted by attack dogs with a taste for drumsticks.
All seems lost until the arrival of Rocky, a flying circus rooster and a Yank with typical American flyboy arrogance. Mel Gibson has a field day with the role; his voice is a perfect counterpart to all the cockney hens and Scottish banties as Rocky falls for the independent Ginger and rescues the other doomed McNuggets from the ovens. One particularly exciting sequence inside the Rube Goldberg–like oven, where Ginger and Rocky are trapped in gravy and sealed inside a pie crust, stops the show. Lines like “I’ve seen some hard-boiled eggs in my time, but you’re 20 minutes!” should be sentenced to hard labor on the poultry shelf, but most of the time Chicken Run entertains, instructs, involves and enchants.
Watching all those chickens running for their lives may put you off chicken for a while, but the movie is dazzling enough to make children cheer and intelligent enough to keep grown-ups awake-a rare work set in a historical context that will appeal to all ages and types, especially vegetarians.
No More Marlene,Just Sian Phillips
Sophistication triumphs over the mundane at the FireBird Café in the presence of Sian Phillips, one of the most glamorous, spirited and celebrated stars of the London stage. On this side of the Atlantic, she may be known as the ex-wife of Peter O’Toole, but in the West End she’s won awards in everything from Shaw to Sondheim and played everyone from Mrs. Patrick Campbell and Elizabeth I to Virginia Woolf and the Duchess of Windsor, as well as a number of bald villainesses in science-fiction movies. Last year she showed us her magic in an all-too-brief run on Broadway as Marlene Dietrich. She calls her American cabaret debut Falling in Love Again and she does look uncannily like the lovely, legendary Marlene, but the gimmick ends there. Now she’s back as herself, weaving dreams and casting spells of her very own design.
What to make of a vibrant, intelligent and deeply sensitive woman draped in gossamer, who adores the wit of Dorothy Parker, the ascerbic one-liners of Tallulah Bankhead, the heartbreaking lyrics of Lorenz Hart and the sonnets of William Shakespeare? In this act, she leaves no stone unturned-or, as Diana Rigg would say, no turn unstoned. With a wicked sense of humor, a worldly realm of life’s experience to share and a voice with the throb of a mandolin, she explores the nuances of a repertoire that includes Edith Piaf, Billy Joel, Kurt Weill, Harold Arlen, George Gershwin, Joni Mitchell, Hoagy Carmichael, Amanda McBroom, Jacques Brel and the Bard himself. You can’t say she’s locking her windows and doors.
This is the first cabaret act in history that includes the “Willow Song” Desdemona sings before she’s murdered in Othello by the mordant Moor. It’s the audition piece Ms. Phillips performed at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art that launched her career, and the way she sings and acts it, she can make you swoon. “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” is a song she performed to rave reviews in the London production of Pal Joey and you immediately know why. “Ar Lan Y Mor” is a Welsh folk song she used to perform with her fellow Welsh countryman and pal, a guy who turned out to be Richard Burton. She’s less persuasive on contemporary material, but the true warmth and wisdom of a woman who has seen a lot is more deeply revealed when she looks through a microscope at Nöel Coward’s “Most Of Every Day” and finds lost innocence in gentler, less messy and disturbing times when “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.”
Soignée, dauntless, extraordinary, exemplary-one searches for special words not used since the days of Mabel Mercer to describe the beauty and polish of a diseuse like Sian Phillips. If you are interested in something beyond the ordinary run of cabaret fare, take the nearest taxi and experience her fast. You won’t see anyone quite like her again anytime soon.