The numerous fundamental flaws in Envy seem like they should have been caught in the earliest of draft stages for the script. They weren’t, and DreamWorks knew it. After a year of collecting dust in the DreamWorks basement, it will likely do the same thing at your local Best Buy – and soon.
I don’t think any critic could have predicted a turkey like this based on the immense level of talent that is involved here. America loves watching Ben Stiller get humiliated, Jack Black is running off the success of School Of Rock, and director Barry Levinson is among the most well respected in Hollywood. So what’s the deal here?
Well, the long and short of it is that there is no coherent plot, and the film’s countless attempts at humor fall flat faster than Vapoorize vaporizes poo. What a shame.
The film stars Ben Stiller and Jack Black as Tim Dingman and Nick Vanderpark, neighbors who both work at the same sandpaper factory. Undeniably bored, Nick is always coming up with wacky inventions that could get him rich quick. One day he comes up with an idea for a canned spray that will literally make dog poo disappear with a few squirts. He offers Tim a part of the deal, but Tim scoffs the invention as simply an “idea.” Soon, with the help of a scientist, Nick’s Vapoorize idea takes shape.
Fast forward eighteen months, and Nick has turned his once-normal home into a mansion and amusement park. Tim lives across the street, and can only watch with envy as Nick gets everything he wants. After flying off the handle and losing his job, Tim befriends J-Man (Walken), a local street bum. As Tim’s envy spirals more out of control, he solicits J-Man’s help to cover up something awful he did on a drunken night to one of Nick’s animals. Will Tim’s envy end up destroying his friendship with Nick?
I deliberately left out some plot points for those who do decide to see this, but you won’t be getting a recommendation from me. Watching this film crash and burn from the opening frames is painful, and this should have been one of the funniest films so far this year.
As I stated above, the fundamental problem here is storytelling. The writer really gives you no reason to care for any of the characters, and as the film progresses even those in denial will have to face up to the fact that Tim is just a moron. Furthermore, there is a bizarre subplot involving Nick’s wife, Natalie (Poehler), running for State Senate. This is completely out of place and unnecessary.
The attempts at comedy are mostly done in the form of black comedy. Dead animals, revenge, the usual stuff. The only time the film really shines comedically is during clips of Nick’s infomercial for Vapoorize, and is the only time when Black can really let loose. Stiller is just annoying and feels the need to repeat seemingly each sentence three times. His final confession scene with Nick is pathetic, poorly written, and endless.
The bright spot here (and just barely) is Christopher Walken as J-Man. He is so weird that he elicits a few laughs, but cannot save the film from oblivion. Having Walken on board always raises the level a notch or two, but I’m sure he wants to forget this film just as fast as everyone else.
Envy will ultimately go down as a blown opportunity. With the talent involved, it should have been much better. If anything, it proves that even Stiller can mess up his typecast character in a badly written film.
Length: 99 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for language and sexual/crude humor.
Theatrical Release: April 30, 2004
Directed by: Barry Levinson
Written by: Steve Adams
Cast: Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Rachel Weisz, Amy Poehler, Christopher Walken, Ariel Gade