The uneasy reunion of two formidable comic talents, Me, Myself & Irene combines the Farrelly brothers’ requisite jerk-off jokes with Jim Carrey’s post-superstar interest in, as Jon Lovitz used to put it, “acting.” Me, Myself & Irene is more chuckle time than laff riot but no less vulgar than one might expect. This is the first movie I’ve ever seen—porn included—in which a guy gets coldcocked with a dildo.
The gag might have occurred to Aristophanes—but I don’t imagine him choreographing a scene around a toilet bowl and a jism-encrusted urethra. Maintaining their trademark cruddy look (the finished movie might be an untimed slop print), the Farrellys add a soupçon of slapdash violence to the mix. Meanwhile, as in The Mask, Carrey plays a split personality—his character, a Rhode Island motorcycle cop named Charlie, is diagnosed with “advanced delusionary schizophrenia with involuntary narcissistic rage.”
Charlie, whose wife’s tryst with a black dwarf genius has left him single father to a nest of outrageously oversized, trash-talking brainiac triplets, suffers from a case of advanced affability. His three humongous “whippersnappers” may love this inanely cheerful naïf, but outside the home Dad gets no respect. Indeed, Charlie is the town joke until an incident at a supermarket checkout counter triggers his long suppressed rage. This fabulously insulting and obnoxious new personality, initially signaled by the onset of Carrey’s Cable Guy voice, shifts in moments from the hilariously snide to the wantonly destructive (and, because this is a Farrelly production, bad Charlie’s decision to defecate on his neighbor’s lawn invites a cut to a close-up of chocolate soft-serve ice cream).
Subdued with medication, good Charlie is charged with escorting attractive young prisoner Irene back to her home in upstate New York. Hardly a bimbo, she is played by Renée Zellweger, whose puffy-faced squint is a superb instrument for exacting spectator sympathy. Still, as Carrey is essentially a solo performer, Me, Myself & Irene lacks the romantic pathos that made There’s Something About Mary the Wuthering Heights of gross-out comedy. What remains is pathology: Complications that include dead cows, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Irene’s gangster boyfriend, as well as the loss of Charlie’s prescription, conspire to turn the friendly lamebrain into his creepy alter ego, “Hank,” a tough guy who hisses like Dirty Harry and is mean enough to steal candy from a baby.
Irene gamely travels with both dudes, occasionally punching one of them out to bring back the other. The Farrellys do contrive a scene in which Charlie learns to integrate his personalities (or Hank figures out how to fake being Charlie) in order to sleep with Irene, but the best material naturally involves the struggle between the two Carreys. “I’m not through with you,” Hank or Charlie shouts at his mirrored reflection before breaking into a complex slug and auto-choke fandango that—more extensive, if less graceful, than the split-persona pas de deux Steve Martin performed in All of Me—reaches its climax when the star is compelled to throw himself out of the very car that he is driving.
Somewhat less than the sum of its parts, Me, Myself & Irene is overlong and choppy. The movie’s surreal bits of business keep things lively, but just as Carrey’s changes are inconsistent, his vehicle suffers from a related sense of multiple personality disorder. As in There’s Something About Mary, albeit to lesser effect, the premise has an underlying therapeutic aspect—living out his yuckiest fears, the male character works through some sexual trauma. The difference is that while the Ben Stiller character in Mary becomes a mensch, Carrey’s fulfills himself as a star.
The film’s most shocking castration joke is its most violent image: Carrey’s thumb is shot off in close-up, although, thanks to the Farrelly fondness for prosthetic devices, he’s compensated with a Kirk Douglas cleft chin.
If you plan to catch Chicken Run, best do so before seeing Me, Myself & Irene. The latter’s designated outrage—a cop buggered with a chicken—might place the bouncy claymation poultry of Aardman Studio’s first feature animation in an unexpected and unwholesome light.
Chicken Run envisions a poultry farm as a concentration camp from which the biddies, led by the indomitable hen Ginger, attempt repeated breakouts. Located on a bleak north English moor, the place is surrounded by vicious dogs and administered by cruel, stupid humans. To add to the terror, the script (by Karey Kirkpatrick, who adapted James and the Giant Peach for Disney) allows for actual, if offscreen, butchering. With their wide, glassy eyes and clenched-teeth grimaces, the chickens project pure anxiety, if not a recent experience with electroshock therapy. Still, this up-market production is jollier than its premise. If the Aardman menagerie strikes you as funny, the movie will too. Other characters include a pompous old fowl who identifies with the Royal Air Force, an American rooster named Rocky (voiced by Mel Gibson), and a pair of cockney rats who sometimes disguise themselves as garden gnomes.
Nick Park is a bit of a slowpoke director, and Chicken Run only comes alive with the big swing number, where Rocky teaches the barnyard to shake a tail feather—a prelude to the superb set piece that has Ginger and Rocky trapped inside an extravagantly jerry-built machine for the mass production of chicken pot pie. I can’t say that Chicken Run is as successful as the Wallace and Gromit shorts that have made Aardman a perennial Oscar winner, but at least the movie is boldly inappropriate. The mixture of the grim, the ridiculous, and the inspirational—not to mention the promised-land finale—suggests that, in seeking a screenplay suitable for their patron, DreamWorks, Aardman came up with a combination of Barnyard Follies and Schindler’s List.
Made on the cheap by MGM to capitalize on the market revealed, during the spring and summer of 1971, by Melvin Van Peeble’s infinitely more incendiary Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, the original Shaft generated two quick sequels, a short-lived TV show, a series of paperback novels, and a long-running Burger King commercial. This black private eye had all the James Bond franchise essentials: guns and pulchritude, a one-syllable brand name with trademark attitude, and a theme that’s been inscribed on the world’s DNA. You tell me why it’s taken 27 years for Hollywood to follow up on Shaft in Africa.
That said, John Singleton’s Shaft update—with Samuel L. Jackson taking over the family business from his Uncle John (the original “bad mutha,” Richard Roundtree)—is no less mediocre than the original, which, even in its day, was outclassed by Superfly and Across 110th Street. Still, the icon remains: Resplendent in his leather duster, Jackson (who has long since established himself as Hollywood’s Mr. Volatility) stalks through the movie with a hard stare and a major chip on his shoulder—at one point marching off down a midtown Manhattan avenue in the fire lane, against traffic.
An NYPD detective rather than a private dick, the new Shaft resigns from the force to become a righteous trickster vigilante dude. That his real home is showbiz is made clear with a scene at an all-star Harlem bar whose resident bon vivant is Uncle John and whose other patrons include Gordon Parks (director of the first two Shaft movies), a former Giants football star, and one of the second-string doctors from E.R. The bartender is poet Sonja Sohn, apparently rendered speechless when the script dictates that Jackson lean over and leer, “It’s my duty to please that booty.”
Shaft is basically a posture-fest fueled by ethnic jive and racist invective—Christian Bale’s American Psycho has been transposed to this world as a ready-made villain. Jackson’s credibility is not enhanced by the Fu Manchu beard that appears to have been painted on his face like military camouflage—it’s even upstaged by the elaborate wig-sideburns-tattoo ensemble sported by Jeffrey Wright’s Washington Heights coke lord. Indeed, as a Spanglish-hissing bantam with social aspirations, Wright steals the movie in the most hilarious bit of method acting since Lincoln Center honored Al Pacino. (On the other hand, the white extra required to exclaim, “This is wack!” has nothing on Jim Carrey’s reading of the same line in Me, Myself & Irene.)
As an action flick, Shaft is clumsy out of the gate and overfond of hurtling stuntmen through windows. As judicious editing prevails over the pointless camera moves (if not over the stiletto wipes), the various narco-bust and bumper-car segments are respectable; when all else fails, the filmmakers manage to get a rise out of the crowd by cranking up Isaac Hayes’s newly gussied theme.