The Greek gods always behaved badly, but in producer Marc Turtletaub’s remarkably feeble helming debut, they’re merely insipid, despite a heaven-sent cast grossly squandered on the kind of bland comedy reminiscent of 1970s TV series like “Love, American Style.” This Gotham-set update, about a couple of colorless mortals who save the world when a lovesick Apollo puts out the sun, has zero texture and negative charm: Tellingly, Athena, goddess of wisdom, is absent from the lifeless script. So wishy-washy it’s possibly unreleasable, “Gods Behaving Badly” is best relegated to airplanes and VOD.
Marie Phillips’ source novel focused on aging and loss; Turtletaub (a producer on “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Sunshine Cleaning”) and writing partner Josh Goldfaden ditch the serious stuff for romantic comedy, opening with narrator Zeus (Christopher Walken) at a gyro cart in New York, spoonfeeding background info to auds: “Greece was sublime, but we wanted to move on.” After millennia of not being objects of worship, the gods have seen their powers depleted: The progeny of Cronos now mostly live in a large townhouse, immortal but with limited capabilities. Zeus is a recluse upstairs; Apollo (Oliver Platt) is a psychic on public access; and Aphrodite (Sharon Stone) plays matchmaker. Artemis, goddess of chastity (Edie Falco, criminally misused and stuck in a track suit), acts as den mother and keeps them all reasonably in line.
Bespectacled Kate (Alicia Silverstone) and pathetically timid Neil (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) are Scrabble partners, unable to express their deeper feelings; in truth, they’re far too old to be this shy about making a date. Aphrodite is annoyed that Apollo’s been fooling around with mortals rather than her, so she commands her Jesus-freak son, Eros (Gideon Glick, nonsensically clad in red velour), to make her half-brother crazed with unrequited love. At a mind-reading performance attended by Kate and Neil, Eros shoots an arrow into Apollo, who’s struck with an unquenchable ardor for Kate.
Aphrodite hires Kate as their cleaning lady (she must be the only white-bread thirtysomething maid in New York), making Neil jealous of Apollo’s attentions. Kate eventually quits — the film is clueless when it comes to signaling the passage of time — and gets struck dead by a bolt of Zeus’ lightning. Apollo, heartbroken, expends his last powers to block out the sun, and turns into a statue. To prevent the world from ending, Artemis sends Neil to the Underworld to negotiate with Styx, so Apollo can be revived and the sun return to its orbit.
A significant portion of the pic takes place in the land of the dead, ruled by the benevolent dictator Hades (John Turturro, gratingly camping it up) and his bored wife, Persephone (Rosie Perez, sadly wasted). However, whether above ground or below, these characters can’t breathe life into a script so limp, it would take a Herculean rewrite to pump it up. The largely New York-based cast seems so unchallenged, it’s likely they simply enjoyed each other’s company and the proximity to home — all in a day’s work. Silverstone is characterless, though there’s not much she could have done with such a vapidly “nice” role, and the one relatively new name, Moss-Bachrach, leaves no impression.
Yuks, like the visuals, are tediously flat, and lighting is TV sudser-quality; Jonathan Demme’s longtime d.p., Tak Fujimoto, seems to be just going through the motions. Occasional special effects are cartoonishly unconvincing, and a flashback to Ancient Greece, with the cast in togas, is embarrassing. Phylicia Rashad was announced as Demeter but seems to have wound up on the cutting-room floor; ditto Kathleen Turner, whose name still appears in the credits as Styx, but who is neither seen nor heard. Lucky ladies.