Even if you have not yet tired of the eye-bugging, eyebrow-dancing, class-clown schtick of Jack Black or the eye-bugging, eyebrow-dancing, fretful straight-man schtick of Ben Stiller, the first collaboration between these two one-trick ponies is still unlikely to draw a single laugh for its slapdash story of one-dimensional "Envy" run amok.
The pair star as K-Mart-class stiffs in the sandpaper trade who are best pals and neighbors in an under-the-power-lines cul-de-sac of the San Fernando 'burbs. A fusspot pragmatic by temperament, Stiller slowly turns bitter green when Black -- a wild-eyed daydreamer full of half-baked inventions and get-rich-quick schemes -- gets rich quick by helping conceive an aerosol spray that makes pet poop evaporate.
Soon Stiller and family (Rachel Weisz is wasted in a do-nothing role as his wife) are living across the street from the gaudy uber-mansion that replaced Black's tract home, complete with a carousel on the grounds and Corinthian-styled stables for a white horse that's always getting loose and nibbling on their apple tree. When jealous Stiller accidentally kills the horse in a midnight fit of drunken archery (Black's yard also boasts a bow-and-arrow target range), he tries to hide the body with the help of a weird hobo (Christopher Walken), and hilarity is supposed to ensue.
But normally reliable director Barry Levinson ("Bandits," "Wag the Dog," "Rain Man") seems to be asleep at the wheel. Subplots flail around like an unminded garden hose turned on full blast -- one involving Black's dingbat wife ("Saturday Night Live's" Amy Poehler) running for "congress, or state senate, or whatever." Some scenes -- entire acts, really -- end so abruptly that parts of the picture play as if a reel went missing. And the actors have clearly been left to their own meager devices, the result of which is a cobbled-together mess of scenery-chewing high jinks and under-rehearsed improvisation.
Throughout it all the air is thick with denial about the punchlines that do come from the screenplay (penned by professional script doctor Steve Adams) -- contrived clunkers like the chant of protesters at Poehler's plot-padding campaign rallies, who for no explored reason demand an explanation of her husband's product: "Where does the (poop) go? We want to know!"
As the end of "Envy" nears, secrets are revealed and conflicts resolved in expository episodes of ridiculous ease (e.g. Walken, who had been blackmailing Stiller over the dead horse, just changes his mind and leaves), and the movie coasts to the closing credits as Stiller and Black run out of ad-libbing steam.
Where are those funnier-than-the-feature out-takes -- which often accompany such lifeless comedies -- when you really need them?