By Shawn McKenzie 05/03/2004
When a movie is pushed back several times and almost goes direct-to-video, I get worried. That was the case for Envy, the latest film helmed by seasoned director Barry Levinson (Diner, Rain Man.) While it isnít the worst movie Iíve ever seen, it is pretty bad for the man who directed it.
Tim Dingman (Ben Stiller) and Nick Vanderpark (Jack Black) are best friends who live across the street from each other and work together at 3M in the sandpaper-making department. Tim is married to Debbie (Rachel Weisz), and they have two kids, Lula (Ariel Gade) and Michael (Sam Lerner.) Nick is married to Natalie (Amy Poehler), and they have two kids as well, Nellie (Lily Jackson) and Nathan (Connor Matheus.) They are in each otherís lives daily, including carpooling together to the sandpaper factory. Tim is a hard worker with focus, which recently resulted in a promotion for him, but Nick lacks focus and is a dreamer who constantly coming up with wacky inventions that go nowhere, so he hasnít advanced quite as far as Tim. Inspired by a dog walkerís frustration with having to pick up dog poo, Nickís latest idea is for a product that makes it disappear. He doesnít know how it will work, but he does have a name for itÖVa-Poo-Rize. Everyone thinks that it is a great idea, except Tim, who has already heard plenty of his pie-in-the-sky ideas, and doesnít care to listen. Nick works with Dimitriov (Manny Kleinmuntz) in 3Mís chemical department to develop a spray that makes the poo disappear. When it actually works, Nick asks Tim to invest $2,000 into development of the idea. Tim refuses, but Nick goes on with his venture. Eighteen months later, Nick and his family are billionaires based on sales from the product. Despite Timís refusal to invest, Nick still likes Tim and he has decided to stay in their old neighborhood. He has replaced his modest house though with a huge mansion that has a bowling alley, a carousel, and a horse named Corky with a stable bigger than Timís house (apparently they live in a universe without zoning laws or homeownerís associations.) Natalie is running for Congress, though she is having problems with protestors demanding that she tell them where the poo goes (she and Nick still have no idea how it worksÖjust that it does work.) Nick keeps buying stuff for Tim and his family, like an espresso machine, and inviting them over to have dinner with them in their mansion (which only serves to get Michael hooked on the expensive dessert flan), but it only makes Tim extremely envious of Nick. His envy builds up so much that it results in Debbie taking herself and the kids away from him for a while, and the loss of his job after he blows up at his boss Mr. Parmenter (Brian Reddy.) His situation makes him want to get drunk, and he ends up meeting a bum named J-Man (Christopher Walken) at a bar that he is drinking in. J-Man convinces a drunken Tim to get some payback, which he does. Not exactly knowing what he plans to do, Tim drunkenly stumbles over to the Vanderpark property (drunk on some wine given to him by Nick) and accidentally kills Corky with a bow-and-arrow. While trying to cover up his unintentional assassination of the horse, he makes things worse, which the movie serves to prove how badly envy can screw your life up.
The idea for the movie is a good one ripe for dark comedy, but Iím wondering if Iím just suffering from Stiller burnout. Only four months into the year of 2004, we have seen three movies from him so far (Along Came Polly, Starsky & Hutch, and this one), and he has two more to go (Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story in June and Meet the Fockers in December.) I realize that this is a coincidence of the movie being pushed back so many times, but this is the second movie this year where Stiller kills a horse (behind Starsky & Hutch.) Stiller and Black may have shared top billing, but Black seems to have been regulated to a supporting role, resulting in us getting tired of seeing Stillerís mug.
The movie isnít all bad. Black is funny as usual when he does appear onscreen, though he doesnít get to explode the way he normally does. One thing that was hilarious was the narration, done in a singing style by Dan Navarro (sounding like Leon Redbone.) At first, you donít realize that it is narration until you notice that the lyrics of the singing are mirroring the action on the screen.
While Envy isnít the worst film of Stillerís career, it is the worst one from him this year so far. It is certainly one of the worst movies from Levinson, but that is only because he is the man who brought us great films like Good Morning, Vietnam, Tin Men, Avalon, Wag the Dog, Liberty Heights, and the two movies mentioned above. He has raised his own bar so high that anything that is just so-so isnít good enough. Unfortunately, that is what this movie isÖjust so-so.
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