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Mr. Beaks Cracks A Smile At Ben Stiller

Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.

And when I say “untitled,” what I mean is, “no one seems to know what the hell this film is called.” Our other reviewer today called it GOOD TIMING. Beaks seems to think it was called GOOD THINGS at one point, and he says the IMDb has some other title entirely.

Never heard of this one. I’m astonished at how much Ben Stiller works. And is it good? Well... here’s Beaks to fill us in on the details:

UNTITLED BEN STILLER COMEDY (w.& d. John Hamburg)

You know what? Keep the title. Seriously. This movie, currently titled GOOD THINGS (which should stick until tomorrow morning’s production meeting), is as generic a vehicle that’s rolled off the assembly line since Stiller became bankable. And you know what (again)? Good for Ben. So long as he continues to complement these obligatory formula forays with appearances in chancier fare like THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS or the forthcoming dark comedy DUPLEX, the guy’s aces in my book. But why expend the effort trying to find a decent title for something this unapologetically rote? The above sums it up pretty nicely. Though, if I may offer up one more suggestion, I think they should prune it to simply BEN STILLER COMEDY 2003.

As for if it’s any good… depends on your tolerance for Stiller doing shtick. Written and directed by John Hamburg (who looks, like, twelve here), a co-writer on MEET THE PARENTS and ZOOLANDER – he also concocted the cult favorite SAFE MEN – the story has Stiller playing a nebbishy risk analyst named Ruben whose wife, Lisa (Debra Messing), runs off with a scuba diving French nudist (Hank Azaria) on their honeymoon. Demoralized, Ruben hastily returns to New York City and jumps right back into his cushy insurance gig where, at the very least, he’s a superstar to his daffy boss (Alec Baldwin under heavy make-up and hamming it up like a champ). See, Ruben is the mastermind behind his company’s flawless risk analysis software that assesses potential big-money clients’ likelihood of incurring a catastrophic accident that could result in a crippling payout. The problem is, Ruben uses this same software to manage his life; so, since Lisa didn’t exactly pan out so well, he’s warier of risk than he’s ever been.

That’s when he meets the enigmatic Polly Prince (Jennifer Aniston), an old junior high classmate (and colleague on their school’s model U.N.) who abruptly moved away after the seventh grade. Now, she’s happily plugging away as a waitress for a catering outfit, and following her spirit’s every whim (we know she’s eccentric because she has a Maori tattoo on her back, and keeps a nearly blind ferret as a pet). After encountering Polly at a gallery opening he attends with his vain actor pal Sandy Lyle (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Ruben begins a predictably disastrous courtship that completely crosses the border and sets up illegal settlements in Stalkerville. However, rather than apply for a restraining order, Polly finds herself utterly disarmed by Ruben’s creepily insecure behavior; thus, they begin to see each other more regularly (even after the IBS-suffering Ruben befouls her bathroom after gorging on spicy Indian food). This sets in motion a number of fitfully funny odd couple complications that include salsa dancing, a nightmarishly status conscious mother (Michelle Lee), and Ruben’s massively important risk assessment of a billionaire Richard Branson clone named Leland Van Lew (Bryan Brown).

Oh, you better believe I just said Bryan “TAI-PAN” Brown. The badass Australian lothario of the 1980’s is back! Lt. Handcock from BREAKER MORANT; the bartender’s bartender who shagged hotpants Gina Gershon away from pansy-boy Tom Cruise in COCKTAIL! Rollie Fuckin’ Tyler hisself! *The* Bryan Brown! In a big Hollywood movie for the first time since BLAME IT ON THE BELLBOY! Don’t look at me like that; this is time for a celebration. Crack open a box of Tim Tams and turn up your Rick Springfield records. Cinema is saved!

Anyway... BSC 2003 doesn’t quite attain the mild comedic highs of BSC 2001, which is mostly due to the filmmakers failing to establish Ruben’s fanatical attachment to his risk assessment philosophy until almost halfway into the film. For too long, it feels as if we’re supposed to like Ruben just because it’s Ben Stiller, and we know he means well. But Ruben’s such a wet blanket, it’s hard to root for the guy. Meanwhile, Polly never registers much beyond being a sex object, though Aniston certainly delivers the requisite heat.

As for the supporting characters, Hoffman clowns it up shamelessly as Sandy, a one-time teen icon for his performance as a troubled, bagpipe-playing youth in some BREAKFAST CLUB-ish hit called CROCODILE TEARS. He gives it his high-energy all – and he doesn’t embarrass himself like he did in last year’s regrettable LOVE LIZA – but the script really isn’t inventive enough to justify his effort. Only once, as a spotlight-hogging Judas in a regional theater production of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, where he uses his pathetic clout to steal whole musical numbers from his fellow cast members, does the film ever meet Hoffman at his typically brilliant level. Otherwise, he’s reduced to such ho-hum antics as spazzing out on a schoolyard basketball court, and shitting his pants at a trendy SoHo party. Honestly, it’s sounds funnier than it really is.

Still, America seems to love Ben Stiller right now (where were you bastards when we needed you back in 1992?), and Hamburg’s BSC 2003 is just competent enough to draw in the crowds whenever it gets released (I’m guessing around Thanksgiving). It might not be comedic gold, but it’s a far sight better than the mostly mirth-free BRUCE ALMIGHTY if only because it has the good sense to avoid that film’s lapses into brain dead spirituality. This is product without pretension. Now, bring on STARSKY AND HUTCH!

Faithfully submitted,

Mr. Beaks

If you’re curious to get another POV on the film, here’s one of the guys who went with Beaks to the screening:

Harry,

Mr. Roboto here. I previously wrote you a JACKASS early review under the name Jack Tipper. Anyway, I got a name change and a new review. I went to go see GOOD TIMING, the new Ben Stiller/Jennifer Aniston comedy that comes out I think around Christmas. I went with Mr. Beaks & Frosty. Don’t know if you’re interested in posting this review, but I thought I’d send you one anyway. Also, I saw Kevin Smith’s Jersey Girl, don’t know if you want a review of that. Anyway, onto the goods…

So, I saw an early test screening of the new Ben Stiller/Jennifer Aniston comedy, GOOD TIMING. It is supposed to come out during the Christmas season and stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Alec Baldwin & Debra Messing. This is a pretty standard comedy on the laugh meter, and it did have some very funny parts. Stiller is falling into this same routine in every movie, but I have to say he does it well. His character in this film is basically a really straight-edge neurotic guy, who has a plan for his whole life and works risk/reward for an insurance company.

There is what I consider minor spoilers or jokes in this review, so read at your own discretion. The story begins with Stiller’s marriage to Messing. On their honeymoon in the Caribbean, she breaks up with him to be with a local scuba instructor played by Hank Azaria. He returns home alone and heartbroken to his life in New York, where he is comforted by his boyhood friend, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. I have to say Hoffman steals the show in this film. He plays a former child semi-movie star, famous for his bagpipes in a Breakfast Club-like 80’s film called CROCCADILE TEARS. It’s out there, but it works. His boss, played by Alec Baldwin, is his biggest supporter. Baldwin really comes through as well. Although he doesn’t have a ton of screen time, you always laugh when he is on. His remarks about Messing after Stiller returns home from his honeymoon are just pure comedy. Lines like, “She was never anything but a dime store whore.” Maybe you need to see it, but he delivers it well.

Stiller and Hoffman attend an art gallery exhibit where Stiller a former junior high classmate, played by Jennifer Aniston. Aniston’s character is really aloof and flaky, and very non-committal. The Yin to Stiller’s Yang. That sounds all wrong, but anyway. It gets formulaic, but still funny. As Stiller’s character wants to get closer to Aniston, he does everything to please her, like eating Indian food when he has Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Insert some toilet humor in which he clogs her bowl. He is forced to come clean to her about his marriage after his mother tells Aniston. It’s at this point that he stops pretending to be the guy who wants to please her and she falls for him. It’s just at this point that Messing returns and wants to reconcile. After some internal debate, and against his neurotic mother’s wishes, he goes for Aniston. Big surprise.

There are some cheap gags and great one-liners, but all I know is that I laughed and so did the rest of theater. Is this an all-time classic comedy, by all means no, but it is what it is and it made everyone laugh.

This is the first I’ve heard of this film, and I’d call those reviews mildly pleased at best. Interesting to see where they finally release this, especially with all 4300 other Stiller films this year to work around.

"Moriarty" out.





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