***1/2 (out of 5)
April 30, 2004
Ben Stiller as TIM DINGMAN
Jack Black as NICK VANDERPARK
Rachel Weisz as DEBBIE DINGMAN
Amy Poehler as NATALIE VANDERPARK
Christopher Walken as J-MAN
Directed by: Barry Levinson
BY KEVIN CARR
“Envy” isn’t exactly what I’d call a great movie. I don’t even know if “Envy” is what I would call a good movie. Oh, I had fun in it. I liked it. I thought it was above average. But for me, the jury is still out whether it was any good.
I know that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. How can I give a movie three stars and say that it may not have been that good? Well, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, either.
My reaction to “Envy” reminds me of my reaction to “Joe Versus the Volcano.” I saw “Joe” in the theaters on its opening weekend. I was a senior in high school, and I was in Florida with a friend’s family on spring break. We randomly picked a movie at the local multiplex and ended up seeing this stupid little movie about a down-and-out office worker who gets a brain cloud and decides to become a sacrifice on a tropical island.
I loved that movie. I thought it was smart, funny and different. Not very many people in America agreed with me. In fact, the only reason you’re bound to see “Joe” on television these days is if TNT is doing a Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan weekend of movies and they need something to round out “Sleepless in Seattle” and “You’ve Got Mail.”
But even though I loved “Joe Versus the Volcano,” I am the first to admit that it really isn’t that great of the movie. There’s a lot that just doesn’t make sense. It relies on wacky conventions to get through the plot. It’s not really spoof like a Mel Brooks comedy, but it also doesn’t fit into a mainstream comedy rubric either. Hardly the pinnacle of American cinema, it’s hard pressed to be called a great film – or even a good film.
But I liked it.
Much is the same for “Envy.” Let’s face it. This is the “poop movie,” as my buddy put it when the credits started to roll. The plot devices are pretty lame – considering one of the burning questions in the film is “Where does the sh*t go?” as so eloquently put by one of the characters.
“The poop movie?” you ask. Yup. It’s about poop. More accurately, it’s about an AD-HD 3M engineer named Nick (Jack Black) who invents a special spray that can be used to literally make pet waste disappear. When he tells his idea to his best friend Tim (Ben Stiller), he gets little support. But when Nick actually makes the product work and packages it in stores as “VaPOOrize,” he becomes a multimillionaire overnight. Of course, Tim is green with envy.
Although the plot is thin, there are elements to “Envy” that are funny. Not just chuckle to yourself funny. They’re laugh-out-loud, choke on your popcorn funny. One of the best things going for the film is its cast. I’m not a huge Jack Black fan. Never have been. Personally, I think Tenacious D is overrated, and I think he’s a poor man’s Chris Farley (insert moment of silence here).
But I am a huge Ben Stiller fan, and Stiller soars in this film doing what he does best – reacting. Barry Levinson is behind the camera, which can’t be all that bad. But you have to realize this isn’t the respectable Oscar-winner Barry Levinson directing this movie. This is the hotel porter stabbing Mel Brooks with a newspaper in “High Anxiety” while screaming, “Here’s your paper! Here’s your paper!” who makes this movie work.
Having Rachel Weisz in the film doesn’t hurt it any. She hasn’t looked this good since “The Mummy Returns.” Also in the supporting cast is Amy Poehler as Nick’s wife. Amy Poehler falls into a special category for me. She’s one of those actresses that really isn’t all that attractive, but does something for me. Like Melanie Deanne Moore (the “Voice of Reason” from the Glad bag ads), I just like her. I doubt there’s a huge Amy Poehler fan club out there (I’m almost afraid to check it out on the Internet), but she was a nice addition for me.
But the real shining jewel in “Envy” is a supporting role by Christopher Walken. Normally, you can’t go wrong with Walken, but after some rather embarrassing bit parts last year including “Kangaroo Jack” and “Gigli,” it’s clear his presence isn’t always going to make a film. But in “Envy,” it does. Walken plays a bum that Tim meets in a bar and spills his guts to.
The real joy of watching Walken in this film is that he does one of the best Christopher Walken impressions around. He doesn’t just act normally. He actually does an impression of himself! It’s as if he’s watched everyone one television from Jay Mohr to Kevin Pollack do a Christopher Walken bit and said, “Hey! [insert Walken-esque pause here] I can do better than that!”