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The eighth deadly sin: boredom 

Jack Black holds aloft a can of what appears to be suck-ass; the contents of which contaminated Envy.
The eighth deadly sin: boredom

By John DeFore

There's nothing to covet in this lame comedy

In Envy, the relationship of best friends and coworkers Jack Black and Ben Stiller is threatened when Black becomes insanely wealthy overnight. Black has invented an aerosol spray that instantly disintegrates dog feces, relieving a nation of canine owners of their hated scooping duties.

That image - of a piece of crap on the ground, vanishing completely when a spray is aimed at it - is a tempting one to use when talking about the film. Most people will walk out thinking of the movie as an unpleasant piece of refuse; on reflection, though, it's more like the mysteriously blank lawn left behind. There's simply nothing in Envy worth talking about. No laughs, no outrage, no mystery.

In a way, there's not even anything to be disappointed about. Anyone walking in with high expectations would do well to question their source: Is there a reason to expect much from director Barry Levinson, who made a couple of fine films in the '80s but whose work has ranged from so-so to disastrous (with the exception of Homicide, the TV show he helped create in the '90s) since? Or from Ben Stiller, an apparently smart funnyman who seems to be bending over backward to dumb-down his filmography - and not fake-dumb, á la Zoolander, but the real McCoy? Even Jack Black - so perfect in School of Rock, High Fidelity, and his own Tenacious D material - clearly only shines when he's working under a gifted director.


Dir. Barry Levinson; writ. Steve Adams; feat. Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Rachel Weisz, Amy Poehler, Christopher Walken (PG-13)
So abandon hope, moviegoers: Envy is broad without effective slapstick, crass without hitting any nerves, and parable-like without saying anything at all. Black gets rich. Stiller (who had a chance to invest in the idea but blew it) gets resentful and does stupid things. Black continues to love his buddy despite his missteps. Along the way, Christopher Walken slums in a role for which he is stupendously miscast. A horse is killed, then dragged around creation in a routine as stiff as the corpse; and Dan Navarro does a shameful Leon Redbone impersonation while singing songs that comment directly on the film's action in an attempt to remind viewers of Jonathan Richman's endearing accompaniment to There's Something About Mary. (The dimwitted tunes were penned by Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh, whose strong work for Wes Anderson has been outweighed by numbskull-for-hire jobs like this one.) There's a happy ending that makes no sense, particularly as it includes one character cheerfully helping a man last seen shooting an arrow into his back.

Envy is an embarrassment for everyone involved, but probably not one that will do irreparable harm - given the rate at which these filmmakers and stars churn out product, in a month or two this picture may as well not have existed at all. •

By John DeFore

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October 21, 2020

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