Take an inane love story, add an ensemble of eccentric characters and sprinkle liberally with gross-out moments. What do you get? An inane love story with an ensemble of eccentric characters and lots of gross-out moments.
In algebra, it's called the reflexive property; here, it's called "Say It Isn't So," the latest exercise in low comedy endorsed by the Farrelly brothers' fun factory. Though Bobby and Peter Farrelly are credited merely as the film's producers (directorial duties are handled by their longtime assistant, J.B. Rogers), it still represents a low point in their shared career. "Say It Isn't So" is neither as knowing as last year's Me, Myself and Irene nor as packed with risqué goofball comedy as their 1998 blockbuster, There's Something About Mary.
On its face, Rogers' film (written by rookie screenwriters and former stand-up comics Peter Gaulke and Gerry Swallow) has all the markings of the guilty-pleasure Farrelly flicks of the past. There are innumerable sexual references, bodily-fluid gags and jokes about physical disabilities, as well as a flash of gratuitous nudity and a sequence that involves a human encounter with an animal's anus. The movie takes place in a world that appears to be populated solely by mean idiots and feeble-minded innocents, most of whom could be described as either dumb or dumber.
Perhaps we're less easily shocked because we've seen so much of this sort of bawdy silliness before, not only from the Farrellys but also from the likes of the Wayans brothers, who crossed way over the line -- with rib-tickling results -- in last summer's Scary Movie. But the biggest shock about "Say It Isn't So" is that it's merely routine, a by-the-numbers variation on a familiar formula.
This time, the high-jinks are built around a romance between a clean-cut, sensitive Indiana boy named Gilly (Chris Klein of American Pie) and a hopelessly clumsy hairdresser named Jo (one-time "it" girl Heather Graham of "Boogie Nights"). The latter is just back from Oregon after splitting up with her multimillionaire boyfriend, Jack (Eddie Cibriani). When Gilly -- a sensitive guy who works at an animal-services agency -- first catches a glimpse of Jo through the window of the salon where she works, he's enraptured by what he sees. She's a vision of beauty with flowing golden locks, a low-cut floral blouse, a pink scarf, a tight black miniskirt and a Kewpie-doll face. The smitten kid immediately goes in for a haircut; he leaves with a hacked-up hairdo, a sliced-off ear and a bad case of endless love.
Jo shares those feelings, and the two embark on a passionate affair. They share tender moments both in bed and atop the animal shelter, where Gilly tenderly recites the poem he reads to pets bound for extermination. It's a wonderful life until Gilly's concurrent search for his biological mother yields worrisome news: The young lovers are actually siblings. A parade of incest jokes ensues. (John Sayles' "Lone Star" covered similar ground, but not for comedic purposes.)
"Say It Isn't So" gets much of its mileage from its long procession of human freaks. They include Jo's lewd, scheming white-trash mom, Valdine (played by Sally Field as a semi-parody of the other down-and-out characters she's portrayed over the years); Jo's stroke-debilitated father, Walter (veteran character actor Richard Jenkins, a Farrelly regular); the mentally unbalanced Leon (Jack Plotnick), who may or may not be another family member; and Dig McCaffey (Orlando Jones of The Replacements), a legless pilot who gets his sense of style from Jimi Hendrix. There's also a trio of redneck mechanics, including one fellow who could be straight out of "Deliverance."
It all amounts to a forgettable, unsatisfying comedy, and an only slightly amusing way to kill 95 minutes or so. "Say It Isn't So?" Sorry, but it's true: We're underwhelmed.