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At the Movies: ‘Shallow Hal’

November 7, 2001 GMT

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Who would have thought one of the best things about the new Farrelly brothers’ movie is a cameo by Tony Robbins?

The normally annoying self-help guru is one of the funniest parts of ``Shallow Hal,″ one of the least funny movies Peter and Bobby Farrelly have ever made.

And they planned it that way. After leaving no one and nothing exempt from their gross-out comedy wrath in movies like ``Dumb and Dumber,″ ``There’s Something About Mary″ and ``Me, Myself & Irene,″ this is their attempt at being serious, sensitive.


The Farrellys mean well, and they draw a surprising performance from Academy Award-winner Gwyneth Paltrow. But the result is a movie that meanders from one sight gag to the next, many of which you’ve already seen in the commercials.

Jack Black, who first gained attention as a know-it-all record store clerk in last year’s ``High Fidelity,″ stars as a shallow guy named Hal _ hence the title. He and his best friend Mauricio (Jason Alexander in a Members Only jacket and a bad toupee) are only interested in gorgeous, leggy supermodel types.

But then Hal gets trapped in an elevator with Robbins and starts spilling his life story. Robbins realizes Hal needs depth and substance, so he hypnotizes Hal into seeing women for their inner beauty _ so all the kind, funny, intelligent women he meets will appear to him as the gorgeous, leggy supermodel types he craves but never attains.

One of the first people he meets is Rosemary, who’s really a 300-pound, insecure Peace Corps volunteer. Hal looks at her and sees what we see: Gwyneth Paltrow.

He pursues her in an annoyingly jittery way and is amazed when she responds to him. Rosemary is interesting and funny _ Paltrow has great timing and gets most of the good one-liners _ but she’s also apprehensive because she has practically no experience with men.

She’s also self-conscious of the way she looks _ or thinks she looks _ and is embarrassed when Hal tells her what a knockout she is.

``I’m not beautiful, OK? And I never will be. And I’m fine with that,″ Rosemary says.

It’s surreal to hear these words come out of the glorious Gwyneth’s mouth, but she makes the character so sad and sympathetic, you believe her.

The Farrelly brothers _ who produced, directed and co-wrote the script _ haven’t crafted a story with a driving purpose so much as a series of visual tricks:

_ Rosemary nervously undresses before getting into bed with Hal for the first time, and when she takes off her panties and tosses them at him, they’re enormous.

_ She breaks a couple of chairs and an entire booth while sitting down with him at restaurants. (Paltrow is a sport in these scenes; she did her own stunts.)

_ And when Rosemary and Hal walk past a store front window, she looks thin but the reflection behind her shows her as a 300-pound woman.

We don’t see the full-frontal fat Gwyneth until the end of the movie _ until then, we get teasing glances of her from the back, her long, blonde hair cascading down her back. The Farrellys insisted that the makeup artists made Rosemary look like a regular person, which allows us to connect with her and ache for her when Hal discovers what she really looks like.

But because this is their serious, sensitive movie, you know everything is going to turn out OK in the end.

The Farrellys also have given prominent placement to their friend Walt Kirby, who was born with spina bifida and walks on all fours because his parents didn’t let him use a wheelchair, crutches or a walker growing up. Kirby plays a friend of Hal’s who always has a snappy joke; again, the Farrellys mean well by casting him, but his presence is jarring and feels forced. The movie slows just to give us time to watch him.

But a scene in which Hal visits kids in the pediatric burn unit of the hospital where Rosemary works is especially poignant. It’s one of the rare examples of the Farrellys going for an emotional moment and making it work.

``Shallow Hal,″ a 20th Century Fox release, is rated PG-13 for language and sexual content. Running time: 91 minutes.


Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:

G _ General audiences. All ages admitted.

PG _ Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

PG-13 _ Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.

R _ Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

NC-17 _ No one under 17 admitted.