2004 - PG-13 - 99 Mins.
|Director: Barry Levinson
|Producer: Barry Levinson, Paula Weinstein
|Written By: Steve Adams, Larry David
|Starring: Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Christopher Walken, Amy Poehler, Ving Rhames
|Review by: Joe Rickey
Barry Levinson’s ‘Envy’ has been delayed countless times and now is sneaking into theatres the weekend before the summer movie season begins, and it turns out that while the film isn’t a complete dud like all of the release date changes may make one believe, ‘Envy’ isn’t exactly comedic heaven either. Instead, it is just plain mediocre, getting by entirely on the talented cast assembled that includes Ben Stiller, Jack Black, and Christopher Walken. The plot of the film centers on how Black’s character turns a crazy invention (A device that makes dog/pet poop disappear) into a multi-million dollar enterprise and how his friend (Stiller) who passed on going in on the idea becomes jealous; kicking himself for what he didn’t do when he had the chance.
I'm crazy, dude!
‘Envy’ fails to work most of the time because it feels like the script for a half hour episode of some slapdash sitcom where gimmicks are all too often the catch of the day; not a feature film starring some of the most talented comedic performers working today. Like a sitcom, it garners a few spare laughs but nothing more. The hard work of the cast provides what few laughs there are based purely on how they are seemingly able to get a chuckle out of even the worst material. There’s no discounting the fact that Stiller has perfected the role of the uptight straight man who has all sorts of mishaps occur, and there is no doubting that Jack Black can be add liveliness and off-kilter charm and verve to the roles he plays. And, last but certainly not least, Christopher Walken is great at portraying genuinely goofy characters that exude eccentricity and charisma.
Even with such a cast, ‘Envy’ doesn’t generate laughs often enough. Going in, one might expect something light-hearted like ‘Startsky and Hutch’ but instead the film is a dark comedy in which crime and misdeeds (Including a horse being killed, the second horse killed by Stiller in a film this year after the aforementioned ‘Starsky and Hutch’) are common occurrences. The attempts at humor often feel misplaced and far apart from one another as the script tries to wrestle comedic value from Stiller doing his agitated shtick for minutes on end without there being anything to back him up.
Part of the problem is how director Levinson, the same man who won an Oscar for ‘Wag the Dog’, surprises with the poor pacing of the film. It grinds its metaphorical wheels as it proceeds from scene to scene to the inevitable conclusion. What the film desperately needed was someone to tell the filmmakers that not every little detail in a film like this is important, and it's better to keep things moving quickly and not give the audience time to ponder the inanity that has just been shown. It is unfortunate that those behind ‘Envy’ failed to realize this important fact and left the vibrant cast the unenviable task of attempting to breathe life into a script that is dead in the comedic water.