Jeremy Piven’s much-admired performance as a live-wire agent in “Entourage” gets a grueling road test in “The Goods: Live Hard * Sell Hard,” inasmuch as he plays virtually the same motor-mouthed character for a duration equivalent to three teeth-grinding episodes. A project about selling used cars invites abuse, but the movie indeed runs out of gas, squandering a wealth of comedy talent mostly associated with television. Barely mustering enough crude humor for one trailer, “The Goods” continues a “lost” (as in “Land of the”) summer for Will Ferrell’s producing endeavors; Paramount doesn’t figure to yield much cash from this clunker.
The premise proves so wispy that director Neal Brennan (“Chappelle’s Show”) has to rely on several musical montages to pad the story to feature length. The sputtering plot focuses on Don Ready (Piven) and his trio of “mercenary” car salesmen, enlisted to save a struggling franchise in the nondescript California town of Temecula.
The dealership is owned by stately ol’ Ben Selleck (James Brolin), who spends most of the movie propositioning Don’s balding sidekick, Brent (David Koechner). In fact, the whole Selleck family quickly finds itself in strange liaisons with Don’s ne’er-do-wells: Don flirts with Ben’s engaged daughter, Ivy (Jordana Spiro, “My Boys”), while the one gal in Don’s quartet, Babs (Kathryn Hahn), fixates on Ben’s son (Rob Riggle), a man-sized 10-year-old thanks to a pituitary condition.
And so it goes. Ving Rhames rounds out Don’s posse, getting some laughs simply because of the low rumble in his voice. Ivy has an odious fiance (Ed Helms, in what surely won’t be his highest-grossing comedy of 2009) who, with his import-selling dad (Alan Thicke), wants to take over Selleck’s business. Bankruptcy looms unless Don can move all 211 cars off the lot in one weekend. Or something like that.
Earning its R rating for salty language (“mother” is frequently invoked, but almost always with a tart chaser), the movie inadvertently telegraphs its strategic approach near the outset, when Don tells the standoffish Ivy that he’s “just gonna keep firing ’til I hit something.”
As much could be said for Brennan, who betrays his sketch-comedy roots working from a scattershot script by Andy Stock and Rick Stempson. Yet despite the cast’s gameness and a few uncredited cameos, funny people saying filthy things only goes so far. And even playing with obvious cliches, the let’s-save-(closeted)-dad’s-dealership motif feels like the flimsiest of excuses to allow Piven to chew through the drab scenery. Frankly, the movie gets its best comedic mileage from character actor Charles Napier as a bigoted, easily riled war vet.
Of course, seeing cars sell like hotcakes, given the auto industry’s well-publicized woes, represents its own kind of dark joke, but a movie that spends half its time in strip clubs because, what the hell, we’ve got an R already for dialogue, can’t really be expected to indulge in social commentary.
At least “The Goods” knows precisely what its mission is. But unlike Don’s can-do attitude, the movie simply doesn’t deliver — living hard, selling hard and, before it’s over, finally dying hard.