Think back to the last time you went to McDonald's and ordered a Quarter Pounder with Cheese. Now, assuming you like McDonald's, and the Quarter Pounder in particular, you probably came away from the experience feeling full and vaguely satisfied. (My wife, who loathes McDonald's, would likely disagree with this analogy.) But can you ever remember saying, "Wow! That Quarter Pounder was really good tonight. The sixteen-year old kid in the back who slaps these things together was really on his game this time. What an artist." No, I can just about guarantee you've never said that. McDonald's just isn't built for that, nor are run-of the-mill mediocre romantic comedies, as evidenced by this week's Along Came Polly, about as fast-food as a movie can get and not star Ashton Kutcher.
Polly certainly has the pedigree to be above the bar. Ben Stiller plays Rueben Feffer, an obsessive insurance risk assessor who carries the paranoias his job over into everyday life. On beer-nuts: "On average, only one in six people wash their hands after they use the bathroom. If these nuts have been here two weeks and have been pawed over by sixteen people a day, that's 182 dirty hands that have touched those nuts... They have urine on them!" This gives you a pretty good picture of 'ol Reuben. Jennifer Aniston plays Polly Prince, free spirited waitress whose easy-going lifestyle provides a wacky rebound romance for Reuben after he catches his new bride with her scuba instructor on their honeymoon. Stiller and Aniston are both fine comedic actors and do a passable job here, as well, though there is nothing new to say. The most interesting character, after the blind ferret, of course, is served up by character actor extraordinaire, Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Hoffman plays Sandy Lyle, a washed up actor whose fifteen minutes had come years before when he was the "kid with the bagpipes" in a Breakfast Club-esque teen hit called Crocodile Tears. Hoffman always seems to elevate any role he is given. Here he is in Jack Black mode as the slovenly best friend with all the best lines.
The problem with this movie is that, although cute and funny at times, it feels like you've already watched it many times before. This is why the studio has no problem showing you the end of the movie in the trailer. You know he's going to chase after her taxi as it goes to take her away. You know he's going to profess his love for her in the middle of the street. Been there, done that. Even the supposed gross-out jokes are cribbed from earlier, funnier, movies. It's all passe.
The one original aspect of the movie is that the female lead has an adorable yet quirky pet. This is, of course, the aforementioned blind ferret. Pure comic genius. Who would've thought to do that? People love animals. People especially love funny animals. What could be funnier than a foot-long rodent that bumps into things? Totally original - I dare you to name one movie with a wacky pet sidestory. There's Something About Mary? Legally Blonde I & II? The Beastmaster? Ok. You got me. There's nothing original about this movie.
Along Came Polly is a perfect film for mid-January. Most of the big studios are concentrating on campaigning for Oscars, so a good bit of what comes out is throw-away trash or substance-free fluff. I would argue that Polly falls into the latter category, though it is elevated a bit on the strength of the charisma of it's leads, as well as a clever supporting cast including, aside from Hoffman, Alec Baldwin, Debra Messing, Bryan Brown, and a very funny Hank Azaria. And, aside from it's glaring lack of original ideas, there's really nothing wrong with this movie. It's funny, sweet, and utterly familiar, just the antidote to all that heavy gourmet crap that Hollywood puts out around the holidays, movies that actually make you think or feel something. Who needs that? Besides, the ferret is actually pretty cute. Grade: B-
Along Came Polly is rated PG-13 for language and sexual content.
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