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The ViewAuckland Review

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Review byMatthew Turner9/09/2004

Two out of Five stars
Running time: 99 mins

Not quite as good as it should have been, despite spirited performances from Black and Stiller and Christopher Walken on top crazy bonkers mental form.

What the hell has happened to Barry Levinson’s career? It seems strange that the Oscar-winning director of such films as Rain Man, Diner, Liberty Heights and Bugsy should be reduced to directing a sub-par comedy such as Envy, particularly as Levinson had already covered very similar ground in his own acerbic black comedy about rivalry, Tin Men. This is the equivalent of Francis Ford Coppola deciding to direct Robin Williams in Jack. Well, okay, maybe it’s not quite that bad.

Best Friends, Differing Fortunes

Envy stars Ben Stiller and Jack Black as Tim and Nick, best friends, neighbours and co-workers, whose relationship is severely tested when one of Nick’s hare-brained get-rich-quick schemes actually succeeds and he becomes the inventor of “Va-poo-rize”, a spray that makes dog crap disappear into thin air.

Naturally, Tim had scoffed at the idea and declined the opportunity to get in on the deal, so he and his wife (Rachel Weisz) can only watch helplessly as Nick and his family spend their fortune in ever more outrageous fashion.

Tim’s increasing sense of envy and frustration is further fuelled by “J-Man” (Christopher Walken) a mysterious character he meets in a bar, who takes it upon himself to help fix Tim’s situation, with disastrous results.

Straight To Video?

There’s an unmistakeable air of ‘Should have gone straight to video’ about Envy, and in fact, it turns out that the film has only been released in order to cash in on Jack Black’s post-School of Rock success – it had previously sat gathering dust at the studio, presumably on a shelf marked ‘Unreleasable’.

That said, it does have its moments, but all of them are entirely dependent on how funny you find Christopher Walken’s performance – he gets all the best lines (and seems to be making them up as he goes along) and completely steals the film as a result.

Stiller does his uptight Everyman routine again, complete with trademarked ‘Angry Moment’ (when he gets fired), but he is curiously restrained for most of the film, where it might have been funnier to see him really cut loose.

Similarly, Jack Black gives his character the expected levels of manic energy, but without a snappy script to back him up, he just comes across as slappable rather than loveable. As for the women, they are both horribly underwritten - Rachel Weisz is completely wasted as Tim’s wife, and Amy Poehler does as much as she can, as Nick’s wife, whose bid to be elected to congress comes unstuck after protestors target her with the slogan, “Where does the poo go?”

In short, this could have been a lot better, if it had been rewritten and directed by the Farrelly Brothers, for example. As it is, the only thing saving it from one star ignominy is Walken’s typically off-the-wall performance. See it on video when you won’t resent it for having spent seven quid on it.

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Content updated: 08/12/2019 13:41

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