A canary-yellow Lamborghini’s license plate reads “Caca King” in Barry Levinson’s Envy, and while it specifically refers to Jack Black’s Nick Vanderpark—a schlub-turned-millionaire thanks to his magic dog excrement removal product—it also nicely sums up this dreadful money-versus-friendship comedy. Vanderpark lives in a modest home beneath a forest of power lines across the street from his best friend Tim Dingman (Ben Stiller), and both work at a sandpaper factory where employees’ “focus” levels are constantly measured. If only there were a similar gauge for movies, perhaps Levinson’s disorderly Envy—never sure if it wants to be a black comedy, a slapstick goof-off, or a combination of the two—would have remained on the studio shelf it’s been occupying for the past eight months. Black’s slacker idiot, who spends his daily commute to work coming up with outlandish invention ideas, becomes a tycoon by developing a shit-be-gone spray called (in perhaps the film’s only chuckle-worthy instance) “Vapoorize.” The uptight Dingman, who refused to invest in the project, soon begins to resent his friend’s gonzo opulent lifestyle—the White House replica mansion, the gorgeous stallion, the carousel and private jet—even as Vanderpark generously shares his riches with his old pal. Jealousy turns to mischief when Dingman meets a mysterious hobo named the J-Man (Christopher Walken, doing his typical crazy hobo shtick) who convinces him to “shake things up” and get back at his friend for flaunting his material wealth, but as with most Stiller protagonists, Dingman is a buffoon whose every clumsy move merely thrusts him into deeper doo-doo. Were there a few good laughs, one might be able to overlook its trite message about honesty and greed, but this dismal film’s primary achievement is squandering a seemingly can’t-miss cast that also includes SNL’s usually hilarious Amy Poehler (as Black’s dense Congressional candidate wife) and the seductive Rachel Weisz (as Stiller’s money-hungry spouse). The twangy cowpoke ditty that narrates the action is one of many unfunny jokes that drags on interminably, but its recurring presence is strangely appropriate for a film boasting all the rhythm (but only half the subtlety) of Dingman’s kid’s musical performances with a trash can lid. After enduring Stiller’s awkward attempts to bury a horse with a motorized Big Wheels truck, Black’s retrograde Willy Wonka outfits, and Walken’s lazily conceived madman, it’s hard not to feel exhausted, annoyed, and more than a little bit poo-lverized by Envy‘s crappiness.
- DreamWorks Pictures
- 99 min
- Barry Levinson
- Steve Adams
- Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Rachel Weisz, Amy Poehler, Christopher Walken, Ariel Gade, Sam Lerner, Lily Jackson, Ving Rhames, Connor Matheus, Hector Elias
- Slant is reaching more readers than ever before, but advertising revenue across the Internet is falling fast, hitting independently owned and operated publications like ours the hardest. We’ve watched many of our fellow media sites fall by the way side in recent years, but we’re determined to stick around.
We’ve never asked our readers for financial support before, and we’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees. If you like what we do, however, please consider becoming a Slant patron.
You can also make a one-time donation via PayPal: