What do you get when your best friend finds fabulous fortunes after designing an amazing spray that , inexplicably, effects doggy-doo disappearance? Envy, or so the seemingly endless Leon Redbone-esque title song keeps telling us. Actually, what you get is yet another example of Hollywood squandering hot new talent on poorly conceived, poorly written trash.
Ben Stiller is Tim Dingman, a low-level executive at 3M's California-based sandpaper plant. He has little imagination, but at least, as his performance charts suggest, he has focus. Jack Black is Nick Vanderpark, Tim's best buddy, next-door neighbor, a co-worker. As you might guess, Nick's focus is nowhere to be found, but he's got imagination in spades. When Nick comes up with the idea for the aforementioned wonder-spray, which will come to be known as VaPooRize, Tim thinks it's just another of his friend's wacky schemes and ignores it. Much to his chagrin, however, the spray works and Nick is the neighborhood's first zillionaire. What have we got? Sing along with me, Envy!
Ben Stiller has had a long list of ups and downs, so this loser shouldn't really affect his overall career. Jack Black, however, has a lot to lose. The man is a comic genius appealing to both kids and adults alike. He had a huge hit with School of Rock, and his band, Tenacious D, has a major cult following. But it's still early yet. Black, who has been bouncing around for probably ten years doing small, almost bit parts, has just hit his wave. Now is the time to cultivate this burgeoning career, not squander it on throwaways like Shallow Hal and Envy. He is next scheduled to appear as promoter-extraordinaire Carl Denham in Peter Jackson's version of King Kong, coming out next summer. Now that sounds like a good move.
To suggest that a lot of talent went to waste in this film would be an understatement, but I think in some parallel universe, Envy could have worked. After all, the cast is superb: Stiller and Black, as well as Christopher Walken, Rachel Wiesz, and Amy Poehler? C'mon, you couldn't ask for better. And let's not forget that it's directed by Barry Levinson, a man known for his sharp satires and wacky comedies. The problem is that no one really seemed to know what this movie was supposed to be. As a result we get a likeable antagonist, a unlikable protagonist, a very-Hollywood production shot like an Indie film, and a tone that wavers from very light to very dark and back again. The battle between a young screenwriter's story of a man whose life slowly spirals into destruction and some studio exec's idea of a family-friendly comedy about the importance of friendship is evident in the finished product, with the result being a film tells neither story effectively.
Envy will ultimately be forgotten. It's not offensive enough to make anyone's top ten worst films list, nor is anyone likely to go in for a second viewing. There are a few good laughs, but they are too few and far between to warrant a recommendation. I hope, however, that this isn't the last teaming of Stiller and Black that we see. With a proper script and a little effort, these two could put together something that would definitely be enviable. Grade: C-
Envy is rated PG-13 for crude humor and brief sexual references.
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