Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Film review: 'The Goods' lacks it -- and everything else

Ed Helms, Alan Thicke, James Brolin and Jeremy Piven
in The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard.

By John Thomason

Contrary to what the deceptive trailers want you to believe, nobody who wrote or directed the new comedy The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard had anything to do with Talladega Nights.

That “From the guys who gave you Talladega Nights” nonsense stems from the fact that Talladega director Adam McKay merely produced this jalopy, which isn’t a fraction as funny as his own weakest work (Step Brothers), let alone his Talladega zenith.

But false advertising is an appropriate business tactic for a film that is all about, well … false advertising. Jeremy Piven plays Don Ready, a nomadic, “mercenary” car salesman who lives in hotels, working on freelance to revive struggling dealerships using a combination of blatant dishonesty, nefarious trickery and simple smoothness. His latest, life-changing assignment is for the family-owned Selleck dealership in Temecula, Calif., which needs to move its entire stock of cars over a Fourth of July blowout sale or risk financial ruin.

Every character in this abrasive clunker is a stultifying caricature, starting with Don Ready himself, an unlikable, sexist prick who goes through women (mostly strippers) like items on a laundry list and who perpetuates every stereotype of the used-car salesman as unctuous charlatan. Going down the list of supporting characters, the salespeople grow even more ludicrous.

There’s Ving Rhames, collecting his rent check as Jibby Newsome, a sexual nihilist who’s done every perverted act under the sun but yearns to truly “make love” to a woman. There’s Kathryn Hahn as Babs Merrick, a well-endowed, clichéd sexpot lusting after the manager’s 10-year-old son (Rob Riggle, who, thanks to a rare disease, has the body of a 30-year-old). There’s Charles Napier as a hotheaded racist who frequently quarrels with a meek Korean salesman played by Ken Jeong. Need I go on?

OK, if you insist. Outside the sales world, there’s Ed Helms as an idiotic singer in a “man band” – a N-Sync-type trio of thirtysomethings playing boy-band music. He’s also the fiancée to Ivy Selleck (Jordana Spiro), the comely daughter of the dealership’s proprietor (James Brolin) and Ready’s inevitable, seemingly uncatchable love interest.

Mercilessly, all of these characters see precious screen devoted to their various dilemmas, and, try as the filmmakers might, there’s not a laugh between them (the only time I chuckled was during a cameo by a handlebar-mustachioed Will Ferrell, which is carried solely by his considerable comic acumen).

The Goods is a clumsy picture absent of a single original idea. At one point, it devolves into two groups of characters screaming meaningless noises at each other. To call the humor sophomoric is an insult to all sophomores; this should insult anyone with an education beyond middle school. The jokes have the inspiration and follow-through of a group of stoners hammering out ideas over one pot-fueled evening. This may have been the case – director Neal Brennan was a writer on the only-funny-if-you’re-high comedy Half-Baked.

Brennan, a regular writer on Chappelle’s Show, is no visionary behind the lens, either, making the Adam Stock and Rick Stempson script sound as flat and inky as if it died on the page (the only curious shot in the film is when Brennan photographs Piven with an inordinate amount of space on the right side of the frame to accommodate the obvious product placement of a Budweiser beer sign).

The Goods is a film I would have rather not seen, and if I wasn’t viewing it for work, I’d have walked out after 10 minutes. Save yourself the time and money, or at least wait – this is just the kind of film likely to turn up on Comedy Central in the wee hours of weekday programming in the not-too-distant future.

John Thomason is a freelance writer based in South Florida.

THE GOODS: LIVE HARD, SELL HARD. Distributor: Paramount Vantage; Director: Neal Brennan; Cast: Jeremy Piven, Ving Rhames, James Brolin, David Koechner, Kathryn Hahn, Ed Helms, Rob Riggle, Jordana Spiro, Craig Robinson and Alan Thicke; Rating: R; Release date: Friday; Venue: Most commercial houses

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