Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard

Directed by Neal Brennan

Written by Andy Stock and Rick Stempson

Starring Jeremy Piven, James Brolin, and Ving Rhames

A film that relies so heavily on jokes about erections shouldn’t be this impotent. One of the running gags in this film revolves around “boy bands,” specifically a group called O-Town. Never heard of O-Town? That’s fine, they are an obscure boy band from 2001, during the height of the boy band craze. Remember boy bands from like eight years ago? Basically, if you weren’t a teenage girl in 2001 then you probably haven’t heard of them and therefore, probably won’t laugh at the dozen or so jokes that are made at their expense. Yet, that is only the symptom, not the illness that runs rampart through out this film.

The illness is that the makers of this film are not talented. They don’t seem to understand the ins and outs of jokes, or even story telling for that matter, but they have cracked open a comedy self help book and have followed the formula to the letter. Remember that scene in Borat (2006) in which Sacha Baron Cohen visited that comedy school and the instructor taught him about “not” jokes? Well, I think it is safe to say the makers of this film have visited a similar class.

The symptom causing the O-Town reference is the result of the filmmakers knowing that pop culture references get laughs in other films but failing to understand why. They don’t understand that the reference needs to be instantly recognizable by the culture at large or it won’t be funny. They don’t understand that obscure references can work but they still have to reside in the collective conscience of culture.

This film is like watching amateur level stand-up or sketch comedy. They are just doing what they saw others do. They have watched their comedy fathers mow the lawn and now they are following behind them with plastic mowers.

The screenplay of this film is the most obvious example of the “follow the formula” technique that it employs. Local car dealership owner Ben Selleck (James Brolin) is in danger of losing his business to a more successful dealership ran by Stu Harding (Alan Thicke) and his son Paxton (Ed Helms). They want to use Ben’s lot to sell cars and provide a rehearsal space for Paxton’s boy band. In order to save the dealership Ben hires legendary salesman Don Ready (Jeremy Piven) and his gang to come to town to move all the cars and save the dealership. Along the way Don begins to fall in love with Ben’s daughter Ivy (Jordana Spiro), who is engaged to Paxton.

So let’s take a look at the basic elements of this screenplay. You have a down on his luck family man seeking the services of a charismatic funnyman to save them from the schemes of the rich man and his son. In the process of helping the family man the funnyman falls for his daughter who is engaged to the rich son. Doesn’t it sound familiar? The writers of this film didn’t write a screenplay; they came up with lame jokes and plugged them into some generic screenplay formula.

There are high caliber performers (not performances) in this film; they all have highly respected resumes. Most of these people have worked with Judd Apatow and/or appeared on The Office. Cast members Ken Jeong, Rob Riggle, and Ed Helms were in The Hangover. Riggle was also a correspondent on the Daily Show. Jeremy Piven is an award-winning actor for his performance on Entourage. These are great performers and people who really understand comedy. However, this film goes to show that without a vision from the director it will all be in vain.

Director Neal Brennan and writers Andy Stock and Rick Stempson don’t give the performers anything to do with their talent. They are stuck relying on gags that don’t work and a formulaic story to move through. All their talent is wasted in this film.

There are a few gags that work but they are few and far in between. They are lost in everything else in this film. They might work but they aren't enough to redeem the film.

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