Have you ever seen the John Landis documentary “Slasher?”
Fascinating stuff. It’s about a guy named Michael Bennett who is brought in by car dealerships when they’re struggling. He’s the expert, the guy who will figure out a way to get that stock off the lot. He’s the proverbial salesman’s salesman, able to convince Eskimos they’re not paying enough for snow. The real miracle of Landis’s film is that he manages to get past that confidence to reveal something of the real Michael Bennett, the family man who lives out of a suitcase, the guy whose artificial hyperconfidence takes a heavy toll on him personally. It’s a really great late-era movie for Landis, and I would imagine Andy Stock & Rick Stempson, the screenwriters of “The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard” must have seen the movie at some point during the creative process.
That’s not to say that Neal Brennan and his cast have just ripped off the Landis film; far from it. But they’re definitely playing in the same sandbox, and it’s fairly ripe comic ground. This was one of the films that got orphaned a bit when Paramount Vantage folded into big Paramount, but to their credit, Paramount did indeed get behind the film and push it, especially once they started showing it to people and seeing how well it plays with crowds. You can feel the comic signatures of producers Will Ferrell and Adam McKay on this one… there’s something about the comedy of men behaving like in-need-of-medication-lunatics that seems to particularly entertain these guys… and to its credit, most of “The Goods” avoids the trap of sentimentalizing the characters. There are a few perfunctory moves towards the end of the film, meant to humanize Don Ready (Jeremy Piven) and make us like him more, but overall, the film is mainly interested in making us laugh.
And for the most part, it does.
[more after the jump]
Neal Brennan was one of the primary creative architects of one of the shows that helped define TV comedy in the last decade. Hard to believe “The Chapelle Show” ran for such a short amount of time, considering how big an impact it had for that brief run. If it had stayed on the air, I’m willing to bet it would have continued to grow and change and evolve and matter. Both Brennan and his partner Dave Chapelle are guys who were around the comedy scene for a long time before that show happened, and they’d already had plenty of disappointing creative experiences. They knew exactly what they were trying to do, and they did it with style and an almost aggressive wit. Brennan’s one of those guys who did his time in the trenches, and he’s gradually worked his way into directing a studio film. No one seems to have handed him anything. I’m hoping that “The Goods” gets him a chance to make a few more films, and with the full support of his producers and the studio, because it feels to me like this is a guy who could really nail it with the right encouragement.
Much of what works in “The Goods” works because the cast is on fire. Jeremy Piven is the right choice for Don Ready, a guy who is all confidence and bluster, with just a wee bit of animal panic behind the eyes. He’s the center of the film, and by grounding it with his familiar Piven persona, he makes room for the rest of the cast to fully indulge their lunacy. Ving Rhames, so often used as a grounded sane presence, here gets to let loose a little as a man who just wants to make love one time in his life. Rough gig, Ving, especially considering who he ends up with. David Koechner keeps the freak on low simmer this time, and turns in a strong overall performance as a result. I quite liked the work by Alan Thicke and Ed Helms in the film as father and son. They’re the “villains” of the piece, but they’re not evil so much as they are self-absorbed. Helms is part of a boy ba… er, sorry… a “man band,” and Thicke proudly supports his boy. That’s actually part of what we discussed on the press day:
Maybe the dirtiest and craziest running joke in the film involves Kathryn Hahn (so memorable in “Step Brothers”) and Rob Riggle. He plays the son of James Brolin, the car dealer who calls in Don Ready and his team, and although his character is only 10 years old, he’s got a pituitary issue that makes him look like… well… Rob Riggle. That would be a funny character by itself, but when you add Hahn, who decides right away that she’s going to fuck that ten year old, no matter what, things get truly filthy. I talked about that a bit with Riggle when I interviewed him with Koechner:
If you’re interested, the earlier interview with him and Will and McKay that he mentioned was published at Ain’t It Cool a million years ago or so. Good stuff.
Guys like Craig Robinson and Ken Jeong (if you haven’t already seen the interview I posted with them, seriously go check it out… they’re deranged) don’t have a ton to do, but they make the most of every minute onscreen. James Brolin, as I mentioned, plays the role that could easily be the straight, boring, exposition heavy part, but his sexual fascination with David Koechner is so strange and Brolin’s so up for the gag that it really makes him stand out. Even veteran character actor Charles Napier gets a few moments to really make the most of that cartoon character snarl of his. It really speaks well of Brennan that he makes room for everyone in the film, and he knows how to pay off each one of the characters.
“The Goods” isn’t going to revolutionize comedy, but it does exactly what a good comedy should: it focuses on laughs above all else. I don’t watch a comedy because I want to see people growing and learning and having emotional epiphanies. I watch because I want outrageous exaggeration, and because I want to laugh. That’s the release the best of these films offer, and in this particular case, regarding “The Goods,” consider me sold.
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