Friday, July 16, 2010

Worst of the Worst: #74, Envy

When I watched Swept Away, I said that Guy Ritchie was the best director on the list. That was a mixture of assumption and not having reviewed the list closely. I was wrong. Assuming there are no surprise Spielberg movies on the list, the best director is actually Barry Levinson, who directed Envy. In fact, the pedigree of most of the people involved in Envy is quite high. The movie has five main characters, portrayed by Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Rachel Weisz, Amy Poehler, and Christopher Walken. How could a movie with those people involved make any list of the worst movies?!

There have been a couple of movies (Broken Bridges and Boat Trip come to mind quickly) that I've said haven't really belonged on the list. In each of their places, I have said that I would put the movie Year One. That is a movie that also has a strong pedigree -- written and directed by Harold Ramis, starring Jack Black, Michael Cera, Oliver Platt, and a ton of other greats like David Cross and Paul Rudd -- but just didn't work. There were no laughs to be found. Something in it missed the mark, as if the movie had jumped the shark before it even began. With each horrible second, the chances of laughing at anything got longer and longer. Just a big miss. Year One seemed to me to be one of the worst one hundred movies I had seen in the last decade.

Envy is a million times worse than Year One.

Stiller and Black play best friends who work at 3M and try to come up with new inventions. Stiller is more grounded than Black and a little more successful. When Black comes up with an idea for a spray called Va-Poo-rize that makes dog poop disappear, Stiller laughs at him. Black's invention is a rousing success, leading to him getting millions upon millions of dollars. Stiller gets jealous and it ruins his life. After losing his family and job, Stiller ends up in a bar, where he meets a vagabond (Walken) who befriends him and tries to help him... do something... I'm lost right there. There's a plot, but I never quite understood Walken's role. More importantly, not one person in the entire movie acted the way one person in the entire real world would actually act. It's fiction and it's exaggerated for comedy's sake, but it becomes so difficult to relate to anyone in the movie that you just wish that the movie would break and they'd leave you alone.

As you can tell from the above, the script is awful. Awful. It was written by Steve Adams, whose big previous jobs had come in the 1970s (Donny and Marie) and 1981 (Fridays, which also, granted, helped start people like Larry Charles and Larry David). Adams fails. None of the jokes are funny. The lines are so bad that they actually disprove the theory that you can give anything to Walken and he'd make you laugh just by his delivery. The movie tries too hard to be like a Farrelly Brothers movie and falls way, way short. Of the Farrelly Brothers. When poop is involved in a major plot point, you know you're in for a rough time (Andy Dufresne's escape through the sewers excepted, of course). The movie isn't as poorly-directed as others on the list, but Levinson has to take blame for a) none of the actors clicking with anything and b) the movie just flat-out sucking. No homages to Animal House or Strangers on a Train were going to fix that.

I had a discussion the other day with someone over School of Rock and whether that was all Jack Black or if it was more of an ensemble movie. That doesn't really matter when you take this movie into account, because this one is an ensemble that fails, making you wonder if Tropic Thunder was more the exception than the rule when it comes to comedies with Stiller and Black of late. Anyways, I bring up School of Rock because it plays into the only thing you really need to know about Envy. Envy was made two years before it was released. It had tested so poorly with audiences that it was planned for direct-to-DVD release. When School of Rock became a huge hit, the studio saw the opportunity to release this film and sell it on Black's name. The movie, which cost $40 million to make, opened with a $6 million weekend. Word of mouth was so bad that it lasted only three more weeks in the theater and brought in $12 million total. It flopped so miserably that the studio ended up releasing it straight-to-DVD in Europe after all. Later that year, Black and Dreamworks executive Jeffrey Katzenberg (Dreamworks made the movie) went to the Cannes Film Festival with A Shark's Tale. At Cannes, the mecca of international film, the two did something that few movie-makers ever do -- they publicly apologized for ever making Envy.

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