Tim (Ben Stiller) and Nick (Jack Black) are working stiffs trying to eke out a
life for their families (including Amy Poehler and Rachel Weisz) in a lower
class Californian suburb. Nick is a visionary who can't focus on his work, and
when he dreams up an animal feces removal spray called "Vapoorize," he asks his
best friend to go in with him on the invention. Tim passes, and 18 months later,
Nick and his family are multi-millionaires, living obscenely right outside the
window of Tim's house. Frustrated and envious, Tim meets a stranger named the
J-Man (Christopher Walken) in a bar, and the two conspire to upset Nick's
This film is a heartbreaker.
Just looking at the talent involved with "Envy" (IMDb listing) is enough to put a smile on your
face. Given the gifted cast and the relatively simple premise, I'm sure it would
take a throng of Harvard scientists years of study and millions of dollars in
support to fully comprehend how this film manages to grind to completion without
producing any appreciable laughs. It just doesn't make sense.
Ben Stiller and Jack Black are two comedy kingpins I have cheered heavily for in
recent years, and I still stand behind them as the top of their class when it
comes to screen comedians. Putting them together seems like such a no-brainer; a
guaranteed laugh factory. But "Envy" is anything but funny. The two stars work
intensely to make each scene find its maximum laugh zone, with Stiller building
up a flop sweat every time the ball is passed to him to make a joke work. But
nothing plays correctly. The material is paper thin, but there's something there
to explore, so that's not the weak link in the chain. And the film has a helluva
supporting cast, with Poehler, Walken, and Weisz all having shown their worth in
previous productions. Hell, even Black, who is clearly instructed throughout the
film to just wing it on his own, cannot create anything resembling more than a
titter. I didn't know that was even possible.
Much of the blame for the failure of "Envy" goes directly to director Barry
Levinson, who really hasn't made a good film in 14 years ("Avalon"), 13 if
you want to argue about it ("Bugsy"). "Envy" is Levinson's attempt to play in
the young person's sport of comedy, and he just doesn't have the faculties for
the genre anymore. Levinson is directing a Smothers Brothers comedy in an Adam
Sandler world, and the audience is made to suffer because Levinson forgot what a
punch line was years ago. Scenes drag on forever (Tim's admission to Nick about
his feelings seems to last 1,000 years), jokes are underlined far too
relentlessly, and Levinson resorts to speeding up the images in two sequences to
create a false sense of wackiness. Terrible.
Unlike most DOA comedies, "Envy" isn't a mean spirited train wreck. Instead, it
just leaves you with a shell-shocked feeling as you exit the theater. You just
can't believe that something like this, which appears to be such a slam dunk,
could be that bad. I'm sorry to say, it is.
Filmfodder Grade: D