[Screen It]

(2001) (Heather Graham, Chris Klein) (R)

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Comedy: After breaking up with his girlfriend upon learning that she's his biological sister, a young man tries to find and stop her from marrying another man when he learns that's not the truth.
Gilly Noble (CHRIS KLEIN) is an unassuming animal control worker who wants two things in life. One is to find out who his biological parents are, and the other is to find a woman who's so right for him that she'll give him goose bumps. He finds the latter in Jo Wingfield (HEATHER GRAHAM), an inept hairdresser who's moved back to their small Indiana town to help her white trash mom, Valdine (SALLY FIELD), take care of her father, Walter (RICHARD JENKINS), who's partially paralyzed from a recent stroke.

With their relationship progressing to the physical level, Gilly and Jo couldn't be happier with each other until the private eye Gilly hired comes back with some disturbing news. It seems that Valdine is actually Gilly's biological mother and thus that means that he's been sleeping with his sister. Not surprisingly, the relationship is called off and more than a year later, Gilly's been fired by his boss, Larry Falwell (JOHN ROTHMAN), and Jo has moved back to Beaver, Oregon where she's now engaged to Jack Mitchelson (EDDIE CIBRIAN), a wealthy businessman.

Gilly's obviously depressed over the turn of events, but when Leon Pitofsky (JACK PLOTNICK) shows up at the Wingfield home with proof that he's Valdine and Walter's real, long lost son, Gilly suddenly realizes he's not Jo's sister and that they didn't have an incestuous relationship. Accordingly, he sets off for Oregon to stop Jo from marrying Jack.

Sensing that her chance of marrying into money is now in jeopardy, Valdine calls up the officials in Beaver who are led to believe that Gilly is a sexual criminal and that Jo is still his sister. As Gilly teams up with local pilot and double amputee Dig McCaffey (ORLANDO JONES), and Valdine and her family arrive for the wedding, Gilly does what he can to prove his love to Jo, all while dealing with Jack and his various minions, including his brother Jimmy (MARK PELLEGRINO), who are determined to stop him.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
In another of those "News of the Weird" and "Fact is Stranger Than Fiction" type stories, the news recently ran a story about an everyday man whose life was turned upside down upon his discovery that he was the adopted and not biological son of the people he always believed to be his natural parents. While that in and upon itself would be a shocking revelation to most anyone, it's not as amazing or hard to imagine as the additional facts that then became known.

It seems that the man's best friend was in fact his brother, and that a girl he dated in high school was actually his biological sister. Holy incest, Batman! Of course, and to be fair, we don't know how far along that relationship progressed, and it thankfully didn't become fodder for the "I Married My Sister" episode on "The Jerry Springer Show."

I'm sure, however, that more than a few people can see the potential movie in such a situation, and how it could possibly make for a compelling drama or an outrageous comedy. While not basing their work on that particular case, novice screenwriters Peter Gaulke and Gerry Swallow thought such a scenario would be a good jumping off point for the latter, and thus delivered a spec script to producers Peter Farrelly & Bobby Farrelly of "There's Something About Mary" and "Dumb and Dumber" fame.

Accordingly, their collective effort now arrives in the form of "Say It Isn't So," a fitfully amusing film that has the brothers' trademark irreverent and gross-out humor, but unfortunately not their direct directorial touch that made their previous films such big hits.

Serving as the film's producers - and mostly likely script consultants and/or re-writers - the brothers have handed over the reins to freshman director J.B. Rogers -- who makes his debut after serving as assistant director on some of the Farrellys' films - and the results are a mixed bag.

While there are some funny moments early on, the film loses a great deal of its fun and appeal, not to mention comedic momentum, once the main story kicks in. Relying on various running gags that aren't particularly hilarious the first time around, let alone the fifth or sixth, the trio of novice filmmakers are obviously hoping to emulate their mentors' work, but it's unlikely that fans of such material will confuse the efforts.

It's not that they don't give it the old college try, however. Among the obligatory irreverent and politically incorrect humor is material regarding a partially paralyzed stroke victim who must use one of those raspy, computer-sounding voice boxes to talk as well as a double amputee who's always losing or changing his prostheses.

Then there's the film's one big signature joke, and that's the belief that the protagonist's girlfriend - with whom he's sexually active - is actually his sister. Various bit of intended comedy and dialogue are directly tied to this one-note gag, but while the basic premise has some satirical underpinnings, many of the jokes are run into the ground, are too mean spirited and/or go on way too long after we know the truth about the situation.

While a few of the film's attempts at comedy are funny and/or generally amusing - especially in the first ten minutes or so - it quickly becomes apparent that the filmmakers are grasping at comedic straws, hoping to find something funny to inject into the proceedings.

As a result, we get a scene - in what's now become a tradition of using animals as the cruel butt of jokes -- where the protagonist finds himself elbow deep in the wrong end of an understandably unhappy cow (and this happens not once, but twice in the film). Another scene features that same character using copious amounts of discarded hair from a woman's buttocks and/or pubic region as a facial disguise.

The inexperienced filmmakers do go to some effort setting up such gags, but there unfortunately isn't an equal payoff for their work. Although some of that material will obviously appeal to some immature teens (and others who've never grown up), the fact that the R rating should keep most of them at bay (at least in a perfect world) means that few actual viewers will find much of what's offered as truly funny.

Notwithstanding the irreverent and gross-out humor, the film's basic underlying plot doesn't offer much either for our enjoyment. Beyond the initial brother/sister premise, the story doesn't have much of a hook to it, and since we learn rather early on that the incest allegations are erroneous, all that's left is the story of a protagonist trying to find and stop his former love from marrying another. Of course, she's set to marry the benevolent rich guy who turns out to be a complete cad and jerk and there are the usual complications thrown in to stymie the protagonist's effort, but they're neither particularly clever nor funny.

With the basic story gasping for comedic air, one hopes that the characters and performers inhabiting them might be able to inject some life and/or fun into the proceedings and thus save the picture. While the film does benefit from a familiar cast, the performers simply can't do much with their characters as they're written.

In the press notes, the screenwriters comment that they were thinking of a young Nicolas Cage when writing the part of their hapless but amicable central character, and that's a good idea since Cage's portrayal of such characters in previous comedies is the perfect mold for this sort of film. Unfortunately, Cage was a bit old, too busy or too smart for the part and his apparent heir apparent, Ben Stiller, is probably too pricey, so the filmmakers opted for Chris Klein ("Election," "Here on Earth").

While he's a fine actor and is good in the right role, he's no Nicolas Cage and although he creates an amiable enough character, he's not particularly engaging or funny in this particular part, which is a serious fault for a film where much of the comedy is riding on such a performance. Heather Graham ("Committed," "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me") while pretty and playing an equally amicable part, can't do much with her sketchily drawn character.

Sally Field ("Forrest Gump," "Norma Rae") and Richard Jenkins ("Me, Myself & Irene," "Snow Falling on Cedars") show up as her character's dysfunctional parents, but Field isn't particularly appealing or funny in her gold-digging white trash role, while the humor from Jenkins' character is pretty much relegated to hearing him cuss as filtered through a robotic-sounding voice box.

Orlando Jones ("Double Take," "The Replacements") - the 7-UP TV dude - fares much better as the double amputee as crossed with a Jimmy Hendrix look alike, but Eddie Cibrian ("But, I'm A Cheerleader," TV's "Third Watch") brings nothing to his stereotypically bad "good" guy character.

Despite a fun and goofy opening, and a decent, if outlandish premise, the film squanders the latter and doesn't maintain the former, thus resulting in an overall lackluster comedy. Overall, this is the sort of film where many viewers, much like the protagonist, will be disappointed to discover the identity of the filmmakers and that they're not the original Farrelly brothers themselves, but some second-rate imitators. Although it's doubtful this will mark the end of such irreverent and gross-out comedies, it certainly proves that the well of material for such films doesn't run deep and appears to be running dry. The appropriately titled "Say It Isn't So" thus rates as a 3.5 out of 10.

Reviewed March 20, 2001 / Posted March 23, 2001

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