Robin Clifford Laura CliffordTim Dingman (Ben Stiller) and Nick Vanderpark (Jack Black) are the best of friends. While Tim takes pride in being “focused” in life, Nick is a dreamer who is always thinking up wacky invention ideas to get rich quick. When he comes up with the notion of a new product, Vapoorize – a spray that makes doggie dung disappear – Tim poo-poos the idea. But, when the concept becomes reality, it is too late for Tim to climb on board the success train, leaving him with a serious case of “Envy.”
Director Barry Levinson had, once upon a time, a pretty fair track record in creating comedies. I, personally, liked the quirky, low-key comedy/crime caper film, “Bandits,” and thought “Wag the Dog” a clever and entertaining satire. And, who can forget Cruise and, especially, Hoffman in “Rain Man.” But, a past track record is no guarantee that the next effort will be as good and this is just the case with “Envy.”
First time feature scribe Steve Adams had a fabulous idea with the concept of two best friends, struggling but happy with life when one hits it big, leaving the other to stew in his own juices for failing to get in at the ground floor of opportunity. The idea is rife for comic exploration and, with Stiller and Black on board and veteran helmer Levinson taking the reigns, one would think that this couldn’t miss. It does. Big time.
Things start out in a standard way as neighbors Tim and Nick begin their respective days in their tick-tacky homes under the power lines somewhere in California. They kiss their families goodbye, climb into Tim’s beat up econo car and head off to their mundane jobs at the local 3-M factory making sandpaper. Tim is newly promoted to a low level management position and advises his friend that success can be his, too, if he would just focus. Nick tells Tim of his latest wacky idea for an invention – a spray that makes dog poo disappear. He even comes up with a nifty name for the miracle product – Vapoorize! Tim has heard this all a thousand times before and, when Nick approaches him to invest $2000 in the invention – Nick actually found some who could create the magic spray – he prudently refuses. Big mistake!
Flash ahead 18 months and Nick and his wife, Natalie (Amy Poehler), are filthy, stinking rich. Nick loves his friends across the street so much that, instead of moving to Beverly Hills, he builds the most garish, outrageous monstrosity of a home imaginable – it even has a small mansion to house his pet horse Corky - where their old home used to be. If anything, the Vanderparks are, at the very least, incredibly ostentatious (and with zero good taste) and surround themselves with an indoor bowling ally, swimming pool, a full size carousel, go-cart track, archery range and more.
For Tim, every day since his friends hit it rich has been sheer torture. It’s not like Nick doesn’t spread the wealth a bit as he lavishes his best buddy with such elaborate gifts as a restaurant-size espresso machine. Tim’s wife, Debbie (Rachel Weisz), has not forgotten that, for a mere $2000 that her too-frugal husband wouldn’t invest, she is, literally, living in the shadows of a life that could have, should have, been hers, too. She does not let Tim forget this fact, either.
This setup might have been a good one in the hands of a better screenwriter. Steve Adams’s script takes the potent premise and dumbs it down to nothing more than silliness. The entire envy idea is wrapped up in less than and hour and a guilt trip involving a bottle of wine, a bow and arrow and a horse wandering in Tim’s yard in the middle of the night becomes the focus of “Envy.” Things then take several different turns with Christopher Walken making his appearance as J-Man, a decidedly oddball drifter who allies himself to Tim to help “fix” his problems with Nick. Walken is so offbeat, his character actually takes the edge off, a little, what is a painfully executed, non-funny comedy.
Ben Stiller does his routine slow burn that he does so frequently. In “Envy,” though, it is not funny. Jack Black has the thankless job – I hope he was paid well, at least – as the second banana kept in the background as a big kid with a lot of money to buy expensive toys. He does little more than provide Stiller with “un raison d’etre” for his envy, etc. Rachel Weisz is merely shrill as Tim’s envious wife Debbie. Amy Poehler, who did such a wonderful job as the cool mom in “Mean Girls,” is totally wasted here, relegated to wearing tasteless, gaudy costume and is given little else to do. There are, virtually, no supporting characters of note.
Barry Levinson hasn’t always had success with his films. I remember, painfully sitting through a screening of “Toys,” another film that, on paper, must have sounded great. “Envy,” like “Toys,” is a missed opportunity that only needed a real story to be entertaining. Oh, and I would have liked to have seen the wild-eyed Jack Black, with his manic comic timing, in the role of the envious one. I give it a D.
Laura did not see this film.
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