'Polly' Wanna Slacker?
By Jeffrey M. Anderson
Everyone in Along Came Polly is funny except its leading man, BenStiller. Appearing in nearly every scene opposite much funnierperformers, he's like that annoying kid who repeats everything the classclown says in the hopes of milking some residual laughs.
Stiller is not untalented. Word around the water cooler is that his TV series "The Ben Stiller Show" was once pretty funny. He has turned in good performances in films as diverse as Zero Effect and The Royal Tenenbaums and his directing work on The Cable Guy was brave and insightful.
The problem is that he keeps trying to cash in on his There's Something About Mary character -- attempting time and again to recapture that elusive brand of sweetness and ineptitude -- and failing.
Instead he has come up with this neurotic twit who fails at every conceivable aspect of his life -- even the most routine elements -- but still carries himself with an arrogant confidence. It's enough to make us want to strangle him.
Which brings us back to Along Came Polly. Stiller plays Reuben Feffer, an uptight risk assessment agent for an insurance company who lives his life as safely as possible.
On the first day of his honeymoon, his wife (Debra Messing) sleeps with a French scuba instructor (Hank Azaria), thereby ending Reuben's lifelong dream of stability. At the same time, his loudmouth, kindhearted boss (Alec Baldwin) puts him in charge of assessing a reckless Aussie (Bryan Brown) for a multi-million dollar account.
But things look up again when Reuben and his best friend Sandy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) meet a beautiful former schoolmate, Polly (Jennifer Aniston), at a party.
It's not hard to see that the unpredictable Polly -- who likes salsa dancing and spicy food and who never stays put for more than a few months -- will turn Reuben's life upside down. The film even climaxes with the usual scene of the hero running down the streets of New York City after her cab, trying to prevent her from reaching the airport and leaving town forever. (Didn't we see this about 25 years ago in Manhattan?)
Moreover, writer/director John Hamburg (Safe Men, Meet the Parents) throws in a ton of the expected pseudo-Farrelly Brother gags from a hairy, sweaty, shirtless guy to a blind ferret that keeps running into walls and something called a "shart" that's better left unexplained.
Fortunately, the supporting cast steps up to the plate and provides at least a smattering of laughs, Baldwin and Hoffman especially. The former is unafraid of giving an over the top performance and the latter is incapable of ever giving a bad performance. Baldwin gets his whole body into the role, walking with a strut, slicking his hair back into a shell and trying on a gruff, husky voice while attending a Jewish wedding and wishing people "Mazel -- good things!"
Hoffman, who plays a former child star, slaps down the sides of his hair, rolls up his sleeves and lets his belly hang out. He doesn't care what anyone thinks either while playing basketball badly or riding in an elevator full of art snobs.
Likewise Aniston, a gifted comic who gets more to play with here than in the anemic Bruce Almighty. Her shining moments are smaller in stature, but just as funny, such as her nervy reaction when Reuben reaches in for a hug after a disastrous date.
That's what makes all of the characters -- except Reuben -- appealing: their freedom. Everyone lives exactly as he or she feels, and it's liberating. We can laugh openly at their unfettered pleasure.
Only Stiller anchors the movie in neurotic tension, literally squelching the laughs and snuffing them out. Life already has enough neurosis without having to deal with more of it at the movies.
DVD Details: Rodolfo the ferret gets a makeover and attends a Hollywood premiere. Plus, deleted scenes, bloopers, a "making-of" featurette and a commentary track by director John Hamburg. None of which helps the movie get any better.