If it weren't for Gwyneth Paltrow, "Shallow Hal" would be utterly insufferable.
A nearly laughless, woefully under-written romantic comedy that flaunts its political incorrectness only to conclude with an insultingly insincere sermon about What's Really Important In Life, the picture is a product of the writing-directing Farrelly Brothers, who apparently exhausted their talent for bawdy laughs with "There's Something About Mary."
It stars impish Jack Black (so funny in "High Fidelity," so abrasive in anything else) as Hal, an obnoxious, unsightly, superficial pest who is interested exclusively in physically perfect hotties until the day he's hypnotized -- by self-help guru Tony Robbins (playing himself) -- into seeing only people's inner beauty.
Next thing you know, he meets Rosemary, a 300-pounder with such a sweet soul that in Hal's eyes she looks like a halo-lit Paltrow at her sexy, size-four ring-a-ding-dingiest.
Paltrow -- as sunny and appealing as ever -- taps with 100-percent authenticity Rosemary's earnest but cautious sweetness, and the intense insecurity and mistrust that she's built up over a lifetime of teasing and discrimination. She's warm but enjoyably acerbic, and she completely sells the absurdly overstated altruistism of her character, who volunteers in the burn ward at a children's hospital when she's not working for the Peace Corps.
But her genuinely endearing performance is tantamount to spreading frosting on a cowpie.
Dependent of cheap sitcom gimmicks to power its plot, the whole movie is predicated on an idiotic misunderstanding: Hal thinks Tony Robbins turned him into a hot chick magnet. Convenient coincidences abound (Hal's boss is Rosemary's dad? Well, how about that!). The story is pathetically predictable (Will Hal succumb to the beauty next door who is inexplicably attracted to him?). And the whole inner-beauty, inner-ugliness thing apparently applies only to three or four characters that are relevant to the plot.
"Shallow Hal" is, of course, plied with fat and ugly jokes, many involving Paltrow's bulky body double, all too conspicuously seen only from behind. Two of these jokes are funny, and you've already seen them in the commercial. In fact, the only fresh laughs of any kind come from Rosemary's defensive sarcasm. "Is that a Member's Only jacket?" she says to Hal's equally shallow best friend (Jason Alexander). "So what are you? The last member?"
Even with Jack Black's frenetic, loutish schtick (that gives way to nauseatingly disingenuous tenderness) pummeling your senses, even with the Farrellys' cheap shots flying willy-nilly, and even with Paltrow propping the picture up, "Shallow Hal" is conspicuously lifeless. It's like a cheap inflatable ball that half the air has leaked out of.
After the undercooked and uneven "Me, Myself and Irene," Peter and Bobby Farrelly were unquestionably on the decline, but who'd have thought they'd hit rock bottom this hard? Not only is this movie humorless and hypocritically sanctimonious, it's a really sloppy piece of filmmaking to boot. If nothing else, the Farrellys should be embarrassed by how blatantly obvious it is where gags, plot devices and sometimes whole scenes have been chopped out of the film as if it had been edited with a cheese grater.
Run time: 114 mins
In Theaters: Friday 9th November 2001
Box Office USA: $70.7M
Box Office Worldwide: $70.8M
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Production compaines: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Contactmusic.com: 1 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 51%
Fresh: 61 Rotten: 59
IMDB: 5.9 / 10
Director: Farrelly Brothers
Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow as Rosemary Shanahan, Jack Black as Hal Larson, Jason Alexander as Mauricio Wilson, Joe Viterelli as Steve Shanahan, Bruce McGill as Reverend Larson, Tony Robbins as Tony Robbins, Susan Ward as Jill, Zen Gesner as Ralph, Brooke Burns as Katrina, Rob Moran as Second Tiffany, Kyle Gass as Artie, Nan Martin as Nurse Tanya Peeler, Sasha Neulinger as Young Hal, Erinn Bartlett as Bella, Daniel Greene as Doctor