By John DeFore
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.
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