Analogous to an overly long episode of Punk’d in which the moviegoing audience is the punkee, Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland’s faux-realistic Mail Order Wife diligently attempts to trick one into believing the veracity of its discomfiting story about an overweight pervert, his Asian mail order bride, and the nebbishy documentary filmmaker who comes between them. Adrian (Adrian Martinez) is a heavy-set, unkempt loser who pitifully refers to his doorman job as “security and property management,” yet he hits the jackpot when documentary filmmaker Andrew (played by co-director Gurland) offers to pay all of Adrian’s foreign spouse-purchasing expenses in return for being allowed to film the ensuing relationship. Once Lichi (Eugenia Yuan) arrives, however, Adrian tries to have the woman sterilized and turns her into his maid and S&M porn actress, prompting Andrew to spirit her away and, after a clandestine courtship, marry her himself. Whereas Christopher Guest’s mainstream mockumentaries admit to their artificiality through exaggerated absurdity, Gurland and Botko employ a dry, understated aesthetic full of seriously awkward silences and uncomfortable scenarios, and their film is initially played so straight it’s difficult to locate the jokes. The sputtering first half’s best bits, such as Adrian’s condescending use of post-it notes (one reminds Lichi to “Keep Stirring” the chili, another to “Don’t Cry”), are few and far between, but the film does loosen up and find its lunatic groove once Adrian and Andrew join forces to seek revenge against the backstabbing Lichi. Undercurrents of class and racial warfare flow throughout Mail Order Wife, which subtly plays up the disparity between Andrew’s well-off Jewish Manhattanite and Adrian’s working class Latino, partakes in borderline-racist characterizations of Asians (Lichi’s broken English—such as her ad’s claim that she “hate cat but crazy about puppy”—is considered fair game), and mocks its male American protagonists’ desire to emotionally and socially dominate the exotic Lichi. But in the end, Botko and Gurland’s comedy-of-discomfort—which never elicits enough laughs from its reality TV-gone-awry concept to justify an entire feature film—is better off when it drops any deeper pretenses in favor of gags involving a dirty old man dressed like Gilligan’s Island’s Thurston Howell III and a random, juicy cameo from steroidal slugger Jose Canseco.
Score:Cast: Andrew Gurland, Eugenia Yuan, Adrian Martinez, Deborah Teng, Merritt Janson, Charles Debold, Luke Geissbuhler Director: Huck Botko, Andrew Gurland Screenwriter: Huck Botko, Andrew Gurland Distributor: First Independent Pictures and Dada Films Running Time: 92 min Rating: R Year: 2004 Buy: Video