Envy

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Cast:
Ben Stiller as Tim Dingman
Jack Black as Nick Vanderpark
Rachel Weisz as Debbie Dingman
Amy Poehler as Natalie Vanderpark
Christopher Walken as J-Man
Ariel Gade as Lula Dingman
Sam Lerner as Michael Dingman
Lily Jackson as Nellie Vanderpark
Connor Matheus as Nathan Vanderpark
Hector Elias as Eduardo

Summary:
Despite a strong cast, Envy doesn’t generate enough laughs to be as funny as you might hope.

Story:
Tim Dingman and Nick Vanderpark are best friends who live across the street from each other. Their families spend time together and they work at the same factory. While Tim is very practical and level headed, Nick is wildly imaginative and has trouble staying focused on any one task. Nick constantly comes up with ideas for inventions while Tim repeatedly shoots them down.

One day Nick comes up with an idea for a spray that dissolves dog poo – Vapoorize. He tries to get Tim to invest in the idea but he refuses. Tim’s wife Debbie even encourages him to invest, but he still refuses. Then the unthinkable happens – Nick’s idea works. Vapoorize becomes a huge hit and makes Nick fabulously wealthy. As Nick builds an enormous, extravagant mansion next door Tim gets a constant reminder that he could have been rich, too.

Tim’s envy slowly eats away at him. He becomes alienated from his wife and kids and even loses his job. It is at this low point that Tim meets J-Man, a philosophical bum who inadvertently pushes Tim over the edge. He quickly finds himself in an ever-spiraling series of lies, cover-ups, and growing guilt. Will Tim ever be able to set things right between himself and Nick?

Envy is rated PG-13 for language and sexual/crude humor.

What Worked:
I went into Envy with rather low expectations. Though I like Ben Stiller and Jack Black, I didn’t have high hopes for this film. While it wasn’t a great comedy, it did offer up a few laughs that I enjoyed. I think my low expectations helped keep Envy from being a total disappointment.

Ben Stiller and Jack Black are the central stars of the film. They make a pretty good duo. Stiller is definitely the straight man while Black is his typical “wild and crazy guy”. As Black does in every movie, he frequently steals scenes with his off the wall improvisations and wild looks. However, there are many scenes in the film where he steps aside and lets Stiller take the laughs. One scene at the end of the film where Stiller has a long, rambling monologue has Black sitting there, utterly silent with nothing more than a confused look on his face. It ends up making the scene even funnier as Stiller squirms.

What really helps the movie is the supporting cast. First and foremost is Christopher Walken as the weird J-Man. It’s difficult to describe him. He’s part hippie, part philosopher, part thug, part paranoid schizophrenic. He’s funny because he seems to think he’s the authority on every subject and he has the solution to every problem. However, he generally doesn’t know what he’s doing and he gives bad advice at every turn despite his friendly nature. Walken provides many of the best laughs in the film.

Also surprisingly funny is Rachel Weisz as Debbie Dingman. Ditching her usual British accent, Weisz transforms from soccer mom to envious wife with little effort. Her treatment of Stiller when he fails to invest in Vapoorize is pretty funny. He has to sit there and face her wrath while still beating himself up as well.

There is a bit of gross out humor in the film and I have to admit that I did laugh at it. Most of the jokes involve the disposal of the body of a dead horse. While they were cheap laughs, they were amusing. The same goes for jokes about getting shot with arrows. Also offering laughs are the parodies of the infomercials on TV. For some reason Jack Black makes a great infomercial salesman and his parody of them is dead on.

The music in the film is also unique. It has a kind of blues sound and the lyrics are written to discuss what’s happening on screen. The music almost becomes a narrator or another character in the film.

What Didn’t Work:
Despite the excellent cast, Envy just isn’t able to generate enough laughs to bring it to the next level. Most of the jokes in the film only bring chuckles and the laugh-out-loud gags are so few and far between that it drags the movie down. That’s really all there is to it. I don’t know what would have improved this film or made it funnier other than a complete re-write.

From what I’ve read, Envy was made in 2002 and was put on the shelf for a long period of time. They apparently discussed sending this film straight to video. While I don’t think it’s quite that bad, you can tell the film has been tinkered with quite a bit. There are some scenes where the characters mouths are moving out of sync with the dialogue. It’s either a really bad dub or evidence that they had to do some major reworking to redirect the story.

The Bottom Line:
If you’re a fan of Jack Black, Ben Stiller, or Christopher Walken then this film is probably worth checking out. However, you may find Envy to be more of a film to rent from the video store than to rush out and see in theaters.

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