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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Envy (review)

Get the Va-poo-rize

This is a movie about shit. Most movies simply are shit, but Envy is actually about shit. Jack Black invents shit-vaporizer in an aerosol can — you know, for dogwalkers — and everyone wonders, Where does the shit go? “Shit doesn’t just disappear,” Ben Stiller whines, as Ben Stiller is wont to do, “it has to go somewhere.” “Where does the shit go?” protesters walk in a circle and chant when the shit starts to hit the fan, “we wanna know!”

And now it can be told. When some enormous Irish wolfhound takes a mountainous smelly steaming dump, and somebody sprays it with Va-poo-rize, the shit travels through a transdimensional wormhole and lands on your multiplex screen in the form of movies like Envy. It is the life’s work of cadres of fecal-temporal physicists to demonstrate the mechanics and mathematics of this, so don’t ask me to explain how it works. It just does.
Quandung physics is the only possible rationalization for the fact that scripts like this one — with no drama, no comedy, no conflict, and not a single likeable character — get produced. But it is, literally, full of shit, and there’s nothing that sells like toilet humor, so perhaps the thinking was, The more shit, the better. I’ve never seen so much actual shit onscreen, along with the figurative shit. The movie reeks of it. You couldn’t possibly eat popcorn or candy or anything during this film, because all the doody will turn your stomach.

It thinks it’s too clever by half, this script by Steve Adams, like it’s channeling the Farrelly Brothers trying to imitate the Coen Brothers and ends up neither here nor there, unable to follow through on the gross out, despite all the crap smeared around, and hopelessly inept on the sentimental end. Yes, this is a sentimental movie about shit. Stiller (Starsky & Hutch, Along Came Polly) is yet again the ineffectual, annoying, whiney crybaby pain in the ass that’s been getting old forever, and he’s jealous of his best friend and neighbor, Black (School of Rock, Shallow Hal), who created Va-poo-rize (with the help of a chemist character who is instantly forgotten) and became a gazillionaire overnight and now throws money around like confetti while behaving like someone with an IQ of 64, which is an insult to people with IQs of 64, so I apologize for that. There’s no point in even telling you their characters’ names, because they don’t even bother to play characters: they’re Ben “Uptight Neurotic Jewish Guys Are Funny, Right?” Stiller and Jack “Fat Guys in Their Underwear Are Funny, Right?” Black.

But I was telling you about the sentimentality. Ben rolls his eyes at Jack’s newfound orgiastic consumerism, but of course Ben just wants in on it — greed is good. So Ben’s sublimated rage manifests itself, as tends to happen to Ben Stiller in just about any movie he’s in these days, in things happening accidentally and through no deliberate action on his part whatsoever, things that would seem as if Ben were striking out at his best friend if he were acting with any volition of his own, which of course he isn’t. Stiller has become the sodden lump of stupefaction at the center of everything he does lately, and we’re meant to identify with him, and that’s a mean slam at the audience. And we’re meant to feel for him when he finally gets to deliver a sledgehammer of a speech about friendship and jealousy and neighborliness and suchness. From low cartoon antics that would make Bugs Bunny blush, we come to Hallmark Hall of Fame stuff, and the two don’t mix.

Oh, but look: Ladies and gentlemen, Christopher Walken! Feel free to enjoy the off-kilter comic stylings of Mr. Walken (Man on Fire, The Rundown) while not much else continues to occur. Isn’t he wonderful, ladies and gentlemen?

But even Walken can’t disguise the fact that this is a cheap, small movie about miserable, crass people, simultaneously attempting to be from the heart and a kick to the nuts. Figuratively speaking — no nuts are kicked here, an unexpected small blessing on the audience.


MPAA: rated PG-13 for language and sexual/crude humor

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

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