×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Envy

A strange little fable about coveting your neighbor's possessions, "Envy" can't decide whether to be an eccentric black comedy or a middle-of-the-road diversion. As in his "Toys" (which was more of a mess than this one), director Barry Levinson's desire to provoke extreme laughs isn't matched by a strategy of how to get to the edge -- especially when the edge is some distance from his trusty Baltimore storytelling roots.

With:
Tim Dingman - Ben Stiller Nick Vanderpark - Jack Black Debbie Dingman - Rachel Weisz Natalie Vanderpark - Amy Poehler J-Man - Christopher Walken (English, Italian dialogue)

A strange little fable about coveting your neighbor’s possessions, “Envy” can’t decide whether to be an eccentric black comedy or a middle-of-the-road diversion. As in his “Toys” (which was more of a mess than this one), director Barry Levinson’s desire to provoke extreme laughs isn’t matched by a strategy of how to get to the edge — especially when the edge is some distance from his trusty Baltimore storytelling roots. Auds coming to see co-stars Ben Stiller and Jack Black won’t quite know what to think of this one either, though pic, which has been on the shelf for a year, may gain admirers in ancillary after a B.O. fade.

Steve Adams’ screenplay provides a blueprint for stretching this high-concept comedy, but it stumbles and doesn’t know where to go in the third act. Although making a studio movie, the filmmakers seem to be trying to let it all hang out like in a wacko indie fling — this seems especially true when Christopher Walken moseys on screen in a role that seems a send-up of his craziest turns.

Black plays working-stiff character Nick Vanderpark, who is criticized by his supers at a sandpaper plant for lacking focus — the same problem plaguing the movie itself. Nick’s a dreamer, says his best friend, neighbor, fellow car-pooler and co-worker Tim Dingman (Stiller), who loyally accepts Nick’s constant musings on product inventions.

A wonderful deadpan mood runs through the early minutes, in which Levinson applies dry wit to Tim’s and Nick’s world. That world is composed of low-key emotions, ’50s-style Valley tract homes, aging economy cars, off-the-rack suits and offices with fake wood paneling (Victor Kempster did the aces sets, and Gloria Gresham had fun with the costumes). But when Nick actually comes up with a real invention — a spray that dissolves animal feces called “The Vapoorizer” (accent on the “poo”) — it sends the pair, and the movie, on a different, unsure course.

Eighteen months later, Tim regrets his decision not to invest in Nick’s magic spray. Added to that, his wife Debbie (Rachel Weisz) tells him he made the flub of his life as, across the street, the now ridiculously rich Nick and wife Natalie (Amy Poehler) have built their mega-dream house, capped with a lifestyle of non-stop leisure and luxury.

After Tim spews his pent-up anger at his boss and gets fired, a sojourn in a bar leads to a fateful meeting with a rootless post-hippie dude filled with endless chatter: J-Man (Walken), who takes to Tim like gummy glue. This is Walken unleashed, riffing and pouring on the mannerisms and off-kilter tics like a jazzman jamming at 3 a.m., but it also plays as extremely mannered and less amusing with each succeeding scene.

The same problem applies to the movie as a whole, as the unconvincing story sends the characters spinning off into more and more unlikely places (including, of all destinations, Rome). Stiller’s put-upon everyman shtick here suffers from its over-familiarity, having been seen in too many movies; Black, by contrast, seems fresh as he takes an unexpectedly laid-back angle to a fellow blissfully unaware of the pain he’s causing his friend. Weisz and Poehler get fewer choice moments than they deserve.

Lenser Tim Maurice-Jones and Levinson play with the absurd clash of Nick’s tasteless estate against a Los Angeles cityscape straight out of a photo by John Humble. Most eccentric of all is composer Mark Mothersbaugh’s recurring title song (warbled a la Leon Redbone by Dan Navarro) that’s clever at first but becomes an annoying Greek chorus device.

Envy

Production: A DreamWorks release of a DreamWorks Pictures and Columbia Pictures presentation in association with Castle Rock Entertainment of a Baltimore/Spring Creek Pictures production. Produced by Barry Levinson, Paula Weinstein. Executive producer, Mary McLaglen. Co-producer, Josh McLaglen. Directed by Barry Levinson. Screenplay, Steve Adams.

Crew: Camera (Technicolor), Tim Maurice Jones; editors, Stu Linder, Blair Daily; music, Mark Mothersbaugh; music supervisor, Allan Mason; production designer, Victor Kempster; art director, Seth Reed; set designers, Scott Herbertson, Domenic H. Silvestri , Richard Reynolds; set decorator, Ronald R. Reiss; costume designer, Gloria Gresham; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS/DTS), Steve Cantamessa; sound designer, Chris Scarabosio; supervising sound editors, Michael Silvers, Larry Schalit; visual effects supervisor, Kevin Lingenfelser; special effects coordinator, Gary D'Amico; visual effects, Cinesite; animal effects, Bischoff's Taxidermy and Animal EFX; stunt coordinator, Tim Davison; assistant director, Josh McLaglen; casting, Ellen Lewis. Reviewed at Mann Plaza 2, Los Angeles, April 27, 2004. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 99 MIN.

With: Tim Dingman - Ben Stiller Nick Vanderpark - Jack Black Debbie Dingman - Rachel Weisz Natalie Vanderpark - Amy Poehler J-Man - Christopher Walken (English, Italian dialogue)

More Film

  • 'Liga' Kicks Off At Ventana Sur's

    Ventana Sur: 'La Liga' Kicks Off at Buenos Aires' Animation!

    Spain’s Quirino Awards, Argentina’s Animation! and Mexico’s Pixelatl Festival, three key events in Ibero-American animation, will join forces to create La Liga (The League), as announced Wednesday at an Animation! round table hosted by the Quirino Awards, titled “Iberoamerican Alliance Models.” Speakers included Quirino Awards promoter José Luis Farias, Mexico’s Pixelatl director José Iñesta, Gonzalo [...]

  • The Quake Review

    Film Review: 'The Quake'

    Roar Uthaug’s 2015 “The Wave” revived the pleasures of the 1970s disaster-movie cycle in a form that seemed purer than the never-quite-dead genre’s recent Stateside incarnations — most of which seem to involve Dwayne Johnson in a generic pileup of CGI perils. “The Wave” wasn’t high art, but it was entertainment that delivered some standard [...]

  • The Mule trailer

    Film Review: Clint Eastwood in 'The Mule'

    From Dirty Harry to … dirty grandpa, Clint Eastwood certainly has a type of character that he plays best, and “The Mule” finds him squarely in his comfort zone, appearing as a surly old horticulturalist who, at age 90, has become perhaps the most reliable drug runner for the Sinaloa cartel, evading detection for nearly [...]

  • Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, ‘The Realm,’

    ‘The Realm,’ ‘Champions,’ Cruz and Bardem Among Spanish Academy Goya Nominations

    MADRID — Spain’s Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced today the nominees for the 33rdedition of the Goya Awards, to be held at the Palacio de Congresos y Exposiciones in Sevilla on Feb. 2, 2019. Leading the pack with 13 nominations is Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s ultra-current political thriller “The Realm,” which impressed in San [...]

  • Sony Pictures to release Pedro Almodovar’s

    Sony Pictures to Release Pedro Almodovar’s ‘Pain & Glory' (EXCLUSIVE)

    In a break from his Spanish distributor of past years, Warner Bros., Pedro Almodovar has opted to release his latest film “Pain & Glory” in Spain via Sony Pictures Releasing International on March 22, 2019. “We are delighted and excited that we are releasing “Pain & Glory” in Spain with a whole new team: Sony Pictures in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content