Along Came Polly and Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! (review)

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Love Stinks

Remember when Ben Stiller was a human being, and not a punching bag for filmmakers? Remember The Ben Stiller Show, which was intelligent and witty and dangerous and bitingly satirical? Only about four people watched it, of course, which is why it didn’t last more than a handful of episodes, but it was enough to let you know that Stiller — a writer and director for the show, an instigator, one might call him — is way better, way smarter than the idiotic crap he’s been debasing himself in lately.
It’s idiotic crap that sells like crazy, of course. So is it just about money? Is it just about smart not selling to the masses, so Stiller went for the common and the cheap and the lowbrow? I’m sure he got a big, fat, juicy paycheck for Along Came Polly, and if he didn’t, he’ll certainly get one the next time he wallows in the filth of bodily-fluids humor and personal mortification, seeing as how Polly is raking in the cash. Is there any better definition of a whore than what Stiller has done to himself? How can he possibly be creatively satisfied with this? (We know from The Royal Tenenbaums that he’s still capable of something more.) Or is there really a dollar amount beyond which things like integrity no longer matter?

Cuz here Stiller is again, flapping around in a sea of overflowing toilet water and getting slapped in the face by the manboob of a fat, sweaty, hairy guy. It’s all stuff like that in Along Came Polly, which purports to be a romantic comedy but is nothing of the sort. It’s five minutes of pretend-romantic comedy surrounded by 85 minutes of every kind of absurd, unlikely way that Ben Stiller can be humiliated as an actor, as a creative person, as a human being. I hope the paycheck was worth it.

Reuben Feffer (Stiller: Duplex), reeling from the breakup of his marriage to Lisa (Debra Messing: Hollywood Ending, The Mothman Prophecies), the length of which can be measured in hours, runs into a friend from junior high school, Polly Prince (Jennifer Aniston: Bruce Almighty, The Good Girl), and they hit it off.

And that, right there, gives these characters more humanity than the film does. It’s not enough that they’re two very different people — he’s an uptight, risk-averse insurance expert and she’s an in-the-moment free spirit — and that there would be conflict and difficulty and, yes, even humor arising from their attempt to build a relationship together. No, it’s easier, and clearly more lucrative, to simply pretend that the movie is about them while subjecting Reuben to every form of abject humiliation known to mankind, and inventing a few along the way, too, like the sweaty manboob in Reuben’s face, which happens in a scene so pointless and throwaway, one that has nothing to do with any of the (pitiful) plots or subplots of the film, that it’s clear it exists in this film merely for the cheap shot it can take at Reuben.

Of course dating is about abject humiliation, but it’s also about possibility and anticipation and yearning, and though there’s a surfeit of ignominy and embarrassment to go around here, there’s not a shred of the tingly deliciousness of love or lust or attraction… there’s not even the despondency of loneliness. Reuben and Polly are supposed to be all about opposites attracting and being so wrong they’re right for each other, but we don’t see this: there’s no real feeling between them. They’re caricatures thrown together by the machinations of the screenwriter, not characters who live and breathe on their own — and there’s no real conflict in their barest of relationships. They like each other; they go out together. Where’s the story?

But who needs conflict or story or tingly sexy romance when we can have farts and abuse to small furry animals? Throw in overbaked supporting characters whose sole purpose is to distract you from the main nonevent — neither Philip Seymour Hoffman (Cold Mountain, 25th Hour) nor Alec Baldwin (The Cat in the Hat, Pearl Harbor) distinguish themselves with their gnashing, mealy performances — and we’re up to the minimum running time required of a feature film. The only tickle comes courtesy of the always sublime Hank Azaria (America’s Sweethearts, Mystery, Alaska), in a two-scene turn as a French scuba instructor, but even he can’t make this endurable.

If Along Came Polly is the 379th iteration in the past two years of the emotion-free, laugh-free “romantic comedy,” then Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! is the 380th. And as with most examples of the genre, it’s populated with people that you can’t figure out what the hell they see in each other.

There’s Rosalee Futch (Kate Bosworth: Wonderland, Blue Crush), just your ordinary small-town supermodel, slim and blonde and flashing perfect and blindingly white teeth. Her personality appears to be entirely defined by her fannish adoration for plastic Hollywood hunk Tad Hamilton (Josh Duhamel), whom she naively believes is perfect and noble and a paragon of manhood. Rosalee is apparently also not very bright, seeing as how she works in a supermarket — at the checkout counter, for pete’s sake — and yet entirely fails to have even a dim awareness of Tad’s tabloid shenanigans, the very bad-boy behavior that prompts his people to set up this Win a Date with Tad Hamilton contest that Rosalee enters.

She wins, of course, because there’s no way in hell that a Hollywood movie would dare set up Tad with a plain girl, or even an ordinarily pretty girl. No, Rosalee’s airbrushed, characterless gorgeousness is required, because why else would Tad, after their one thoroughly chaste pretend date, fly across the country from L.A. to Numb Butt, West Virginia, to see her again. He’s a shallow, hollow shell of a Hollywood automaton — perhaps she reminds him of the bimbettes who typically fall at his feet. Something about her being “real” and fresh and, frankly, dumb in a different way than he’s used to, like how she puts her retainer on the table in a fancy restaurant and pukes in the limo. So charming.

And then there’s Pete (Topher Grace: Pinocchio, Traffic), the manager at the Piggly Wiggly who is, naturally, madly in love with Rosalee, though he doesn’t seem to like her very much. He doesn’t even share her one interest in bad romantic melodramas of the type that Tad stars in. Why Pete loves Rosalee is a mystery, except, of course, that she’s a perky blonde fantasy girl-next-door.

Not only do you know how it all ends, you already know all the steps along the way, the push and pull of featureless characters thrown together for no reason beyond the exigencies of the plot. Why we’re meant to care about any of it is the only mystery on hand.

Along Came Polly
viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers
rated PG-13 for sexual content, language, crude humor and some drug references
official site | IMDB

Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!
viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers
rated PG-13 for sexual content, some drug references and language
official site | IMDB

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