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ME MYSELF AND IRENE

THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT CHARLIE...
... and itís called Hank. In Me, Myself & Irene - the latest movie from the Farrelly Brothers - you get two Jim Carreys for the price of one. And both of them fall in love with the same girl. So itís kind of a romantic comedy? Well yes, but thereís still plenty of the gross-out humour that we all know and love. DICK NIRO reports.

The Farrelly brothers wrote and directed Me, Myself & Irene, so this article should start by talking about all the gross-out things that happen in the film, right? Wrong.

Or, to put it another way, there are gross-out things in Me, Myself and Irene, but Iím not going to tell you what they are. Even Renťe Zellweger, who stars in the film as Irene, isnít going to tell you what they are. Youíll have to find out for yourself.

"Thereís good taste, thereís bad taste and thereís Farrelly taste," says Zellweger, a new recruit to the Rhode Island brothersí universe, who first rose to stardom when she appeared with Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire. "Iíve never done anything like this in my whole life, ever! You canít imagine some of the stuff these guys come up with. I still canít believe it. My dadís not going to believe this. In fact, my dad canít see this movie!"

"Of course we offend some people,"

What makes this all the more intriguing is the fact that what does make it into Me, Myself & Irene is apparently only the tip of the iceberg. "Of course we offend some people," says Peter, the older of the two by a year and the one who does most of the talking. "But our general rule is, if we offend more than we donít offend, we cut it. Weíve discovered in our test screenings that people will not laugh if itís truly offensive."

Working on that principle, if Jeff Daniels and the non-flushing toilet in Dumb & Dumber and Ben Stiller and his zip in Thereís Something About Mary is OK, where does the line get drawn? Donít even ask. And see: here I go talking about gross-out humour, whereas what the Farrellys say theyíre trying to make is sweet-natured films about really likeable people. They donít start out looking for some new outrageous scene that will have everybody talking - which is perhaps just as well, since the Something About Mary zip would be a tough act to follow. No, they start out with characters.

"Believe it or not, the first thing we think about is not laughs," says Peter. "We want to create characters that audiences will love enough for us to get away with murder. That comes first. We will only go as far as that character will allow."

Thereís actually what you might, if you want to be auteurist about it, call a basic structure to the films made by the Farrellys, who began their career writing for Jim Carrey on one of the Ace Ventura movies. In addition to the Mr Nice Guy in the middle, thereís always a trip - like Lloyd Christmas (Carrey) in Dumb & Dumber goes to Colorado and Pat Healy (Stiller) in Thereís Something About Mary goes to Florida - and there is what you might call a nemesis; not so much a bad guy (heís usually too hapless for that) as a Mr Bad Boy who comes between Mr Nice Guy and The Girl.

"We pretty much rip ourselves off"

Me, Myself & Irene certainly has the journey. Mild-mannered Rhode Island state trooper Charlie Baileygates (played by Jim Carrey in his third Farrelly Brothers movie) has to escort the felonious Irene Waters (Zellweger) across state lines to answer her warrant.

"Itís just the same old, same old," jokes Bobby. "We pretty much rip ourselves off from movie to movie. Seriously, though, we hope this will have as many big laughs as Mary did. Thereís a couple of scenes in here that I think will get as big a laugh. Suffice it to say, I donít think people use the word Ďmatureí with us very often."

The movie boasts an impressive supporting cast, including a couple of actors who have rarely played comedy before - Oscar nominee Robert Forster as Charlieís indulgent commanding officer, and Chris Cooper (Lone Star, American Beauty) as one of the cops who ends up tailing him - plus Farrelly regular Lin Shaye (the sun-worshipping Magda from Mary) as the wizened Cigarette Lady.

"We have to put her in our films." says Peter. "It would be bad karma not to; sheís been too good to us. Iíve said it before: our movies would be only half as good without her."

But the movie is a basically a three-hander, with Carrey playing two of the hands. The real twist in Me, Myself & Irene comes in the identity of Mr Bad Boy: itís Carrey again, in the form of Charlieís alter ego, Hank, who is everything Charlie isnít. Heís aggressive, hard-drinking and makes interesting use of a variety of marital aids. Hank takes over when Charlie forgets to take his medication. What is more, both of them fall in love with Irene. And, wouldnít you know it, Irene responds to something in each of them.

"They cross the line"

For anyone other than the Farrellys, making an outrageous comedy about someone with a split personality might have given pause for thought. "How do they keep within the limits of taste?" muses producer Bradley Thomas, who also did Kingpin and Mary and co-produced Dumb & Dumber. "They donít. They cross the line, totally cross the line. They know when to pull back, but I think their goal is to go as far as possible. Nobody is making fun of anybody, but they poke fun at everybody."

Carreyís character is called Charlie on good days and Hank on bad ones. And he has a history, which is a characteristic Farrelly Brothers mix of the emotionally devastating and the outrageously comic. The root of Charlieís problem lies in his failed marriage to Layla (Traylor Howard), whom he adored but who ran off with the vertically challenged African-American limo driver who picked them up at their wedding. Not only that, but she had triplets with the guy, then dumped them on Charlie, who adores them, too. So here he is, an ordinary, peace-living, helping-old-ladies-across-the-street Rhode Island state trooper with three mixed race kids. To make things worse (or funnier), they all have near-genius IQs.

Charlie doesnít. All Charlie wants is for his three kids to be part of street life, to talk cool. So hereís this dumb white cop trying to teach these three young black Einsteins to be street-wise. Charlie, as you will discover, has some unresolved problems.

"Charlieís heartbroken," says Peter Farrelly, "but he never deals with it, never explodes or lets it out to show people how angry he is. He just covers it up. Itís too painful for him to deal with. Finally, 15 years later, he explodes in the guise of this other personality, Hank. All the aggression that heís kept a lid on over the last 15 years comes out in this other personality."

"Itís an extremely demanding role,"

Itís a role that might have been tailor-made for Carrey, but it wasnít. Me, Myself & Irene is a script that the film-makers wrote in 1990, before they really became the Farrellys. Eight years later, it found its way to Carrey. "We knew it was good," says Mike Cerrone, one of many childhood and school friends who tend to show up on the brothersí movies and who wrote this screenplay with them a decade ago, "but we felt it was haunted because it had been around for so long. Then Jim read it and contacted Peter and Bobby and said he wanted to do it. That made it happen."

"Itís an extremely demanding role," says Peter, "because Jim has no props or make-up to clearly delineate between the two characters. Itís not an easy thing to do. He uses voice changes, but mostly body-language and mannerisms."

"Iíve never seen anybody do what he can do," says Zellweger, who admits that the two hardest things about working with Carrey were keeping up and keeping a straight face. "Weíd perform a scene and, in the next instant, heíd be somebody completely different, completely unrecognisable. It was kind of scary, because even his eyes were different. It was magical to see what he could do."

Meanwhile, Zellweger herself had no difficulty in understanding why her character should be attracted to the two sides of Charlie. And that was always part of the Farrellysí plan.

"We always thought this comedy would work best if we played it like a traditional love triangle," says Bobby, "with the girl and the two guys both fighting for her. Usually, in that situation, one of the guys is a nice guy and the other one is a bit of a bad boy. And the girl usually goes for the bad guy. We thought we had to write it so audiences didnít know which guy is going to get the girl."

"Renťe has that kind of appeal."

And the girl herself? "We wanted her to be the type of woman who, the more you looked at, the more you fell in love with her," says Bobby. "Renťe has that kind of appeal."

Amen to that. But she isnít all sweetness and light, surely? Doesnít she have a criminal past? Why else would Charlie/Hank be escorting her across state lines? What is it exactly that she has done?

"A very suspicious traffic violation," mutters Peter darkly.

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