There isn’t much gray area in moviegoers’ opinions of the Farrelly brothers.They find films like Dumb & Dumber, Kingpin, and There’s Something About Mary either asphyxiatingly funny – or mind-numbing swill.Say It Isn’t So is being promoted as the latest censor-bending Farrelly feature, attempting to lure ticket-buyers into believing it’s another madcap lowbrow yuk-fest full of big breasts, bodily functions and gastrointestinal noises. But the Farrelly’s involvement here is insubstantial at best, and even by their standards it’s lightweight and soporific.
This is the classic "Boy meets Girl, Boy loses Girl, Boy gets Girl" love story – but with a twist. Gilly Noble (Chris Klein – Election, American Pie) and Jo Wingfield (Heather Graham – Boogie Nights, Bowfinger) are a small town Indiana couple, madly in love and planning on getting married. He happily works as an animal control officer, she’s a hairdresser; life is good. Unfortunately, the twist is "Boy and Girl are brother and sister." Through a detective he hired, Gilly learns that he’s the son of Jo’s mother (Sally Field), given up for adoption years ago. Gilly’s ostracized as an incestuous pervert and loses his job. Crushed and humiliated, Jo moves back to Oregon.and gets engaged to her former flame, a smooth and handsome millionaire. But then Gilly learns the truth – he’s not Jo’s brother at all – and he sets off on a cross-country jaunt to win her back.
Now, this is not exactly Sam Shepard or David Mamet territory in terms of story complexity and sophistication. But past Farrelly films succeeded by taking relatively simple setups and larding them with unlikely developments involving comic-book level violence, sex, and animals. Sometimes even sex with animals. They also usually employ actors like Jim Carrey, Ben Stiller, and Bill Murray – performers whose intrinsic styles carry enough energy to invigorate even the most tired plot. But there are a couple of problems with Say It Isn’t So that prevent this from happening.
First, it really isn’t "A Farrelly Brothers Film." The Farrellys are the film’s producers, but others handled the writing (Peter Gaulke, Gerry Swallow) and directing (James B. Rogers) chores. For all three this is their first feature film, and none of them displays anything approaching the Farrely’s skill. Farrelly-written/directed films are usually crammed with punch lines and sight gags – if you don’t like one joke, there’s always another due to come along in a matter of seconds. But Say It Isn’t So is rather thin stock, the jokes are sparsely sown and what happens between them is duller than C-SPAN during a filibuster. For example: the Oregon town that Jo flees to (mentioned several times as if the name itself should provoke guffaws) is called – Beaver. But that’s as far as the alleged gag goes. The net effect is like an eight year old who revels in being able to repeatedly say "Hell" in Sunday school.
The other problem is the acting – or, perhaps, the casting. Both Klein and Graham give such vacant and lifeless performances that not only do they detract from the gags, the gaps in between also lack any comic energy. There’s no excitement of anticipation, wondering what might happen next. Klein cranks his All-American Boy persona from Election up a few notches into sainthood, but to no avail, and Graham demonstrates why she’s rapidly becoming Valerie Perrine For The New Millennium. Here she’s a Barbie doll with little personality. Her appeal is primarily confined to the contents of her tube tops. As Jo’s mother, two-time Oscar winner Sally Field looks as if she couldn’t wait to head off-screen and fire the incompetent agent that got her into this mess. The only energetic performance is contributed by Orlando Jones (The Replacements) as a bush pilot with no legs (!) who comes to Gilly’s aid, but unfortunately he isn’t on screen enough to make much of a contribution.
– Bob Aulert