Envy (2004)

"Unbearable"

Envy (2004) Review


The last half hour of Saturday Night Live is inevitably a wasteland. Talented comedians are given Z grade material that goes nowhere. Imagine if the entire show were that dismal. That, in a nutshell, is Envy.

It begins with two working stiffs, Tim (Ben Stiller) and Nick (Jack Black) plodding their lives away at a 3M facility. By-the-book Tim is creeping into middle management while dreamer Nick wallows on the factory floor concocting wacky ideas for useless products. All of that changes when one of Nick's hare-brained schemes, a spray that dissolves dog excrement called Vapoorize (No. Stop. I think I'm gonna bust a gut.), pans out and makes millions.

Now Tim is getting dirty looks from his wife Debbie (a squandered Rachel Weisz) because he had the chance to invest before the company skyrocketed. Jealousy eats away at him until he's lost his family and his job. Enter the J-Man (Christopher Walken, reprising his long-haired loony shtick from America's Sweethearts), who encourages Tim to strike back at his nemesis. Tim takes him up on the offer and a series of consistently unfunny mishaps ensues.

Stiller and Black play lifeless versions of themselves from much better prior films. Tim is the neurotic Ted of There's Something About Mary with worse hair, and Nick the passionate Barry of High Fidelity without the sarcasm, but here they're just going through the motions. Only Walken seems to bring any commitment to his role. Not unlike his stints in that dreaded final third of SNL, he actually raises the film from its mediocrity when he first appears. But even he becomes tiresome after a while. If Christopher Walken can't save your film, you know you're in trouble.

Adding to the annoyance is the soundtrack. The song "Envy," written by Mark Mothersbaugh, appears throughout the film. It literally narrates Tim's thoughts. To make matters worse, it does it in a hokey "aw shucks" manner that incorporates the word "diddly-squat," which no song should ever do under any circumstances. One expects more from the lead singer of Devo.

It might help if the story made any sense. If the product eradicates animal feces, what about human excrement? Wouldn't the entire waste management industry be brought to a standstill? Even that leap of logic could be forgiven if the film answered questions asked by its own characters. Like a running gag, everyone wants to know where the crap goes. The film sidesteps that issue with a final plot twist that has more holes than the initial premise.

Somehow it's strangely appropriate that this was penned by Steve Adams, a writer for SNL's ugly stepsister Fridays. The fable he sets out to tell has potential that's never exploited. Instead we get one lame skit after another until finally we think they're just making it up as they go along. In fact, it might be better if they were. Stiller and Black are both accomplished improvisational comedians. Strange that director Barry Levinson, who has cultivated exceptional comedic performances in the past (Robin Williams in Good Morning, Vietnam, Dustin Hoffman in Wag the Dog, the entire cast of Diner), could do nothing more here with the copious talent involved.

There are a couple of chuckle-worthy moments. The costume department deserves some credit for producing outfits to match Black's larger-than-life persona, and Stiller's rant toward the end of the film allows him to briefly outshine his costar. Overall, however, Stiller and Black get more laughs in their 60-second Academy Awards presentations than in the entire 99 minutes of this film.

What we need now is a spray that eradicates bad movies. I think I'll call it Crappy Film Be-Gone. Wanna invest?

It's still not working.



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