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The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard: Laugh Hard! The Goods Delivers

Ever since Will Ferrell’s stock fell and Judd Apatow’s stock rose, comedies have been more focused on full-blooded characters, plots with genuine growth, and scripts with “heart.” The Goods gives a proud middle finger to the Apatowian comedy style, and instead goes for non-stop, foul-mouthed laughter. This movie reminded me of Anchorman (no surprise that Will Ferrell and Adam McKay both produced this film), in the sense that plot and heart are of no concern– first and foremost, the film wants to deliver memorable characters and quotables in a free-for-all of chaotic laughter and mayhem. With every actor giving everything they’ve got to their respective roles, more jokes stick than fall flat, and The Goods lives up to its name.

Selleck Motors has been a family-run car dealer for generations, but times are tough for Ben Selleck (James Brolin) and his rag tag bunch of salesmen, Wade Zooha (Tony Hale), Teddy Dang (Ken Jeong), and Dick Lewiston (Charles Napier). With the banks breathing down Ben’s neck, and the Fourth of July weekend rapidly approaching, they call in a mercenary. His name? Don Ready (Jeremy Piven), who brings with him his loyal crew, Jibby (Ving Rhames), Brent (David Koechner), and Babs (Kathryn Hahn). Their goal? Sell every car on the lot by the time the weekend is over.

Sounds hard? Ready and his crew are persuasive enough that it seems plausible– a hilarious early scene shows Ready convincing the stewardesses and everyone else on a plane that they should be able to smoke in-flight. However, several obstacles stand in their way. Ready has a crush on Ben’s daughter, Ivy (Jordana Spiro), and believes one of the salesmen, Blake (Jonathan Sadowski), to be his son from a one night stand years ago, so he’s having trouble focusing. Babs is attempting to seduce Ben’s 10-year-old son, whose pituitary gland problem makes him look 30 (he’s portrayed by the always-funny Rob Riggle). Ben is attempting to get close to Ben… perhaps too close. Ivy’s fiance, Paxton Harding (Ed Helms), and his father Stu (Alan Thicke), have declared they will buy the lot as a rehearsal space for Paxton’s band, Big Ups (they’re a “man-band”– like a boy band, with all grown men). The DJ they hired from the local strip club (Craig Robinson) is the type of DJ who doesn’t like to take requests. Finally, there was a gig gone wrong in Kerky that continues to haunt Don to this day…

Every single character gets his or her own laughs– ike Anchorman, there aren’t just a couple of unique characters that leave an impression, they all do. James Brolin and Alan Thicke get laughs simply be being in the film in the first place. Kathryn Hahn was the funniest of Ready’s “men,” who enjoys sex, drink, and strip clubs as much as the rest of the men; if you thought she was game for some outlandish lines in Step Brothers, wait til you see her here. Ed Helms and Craig Robinson, both on TV’s The Office, also get huge laughs as antagonists to the main characters– I can’t recall a single line by either of these men that didn’t result in guffaws (it’s been a great year for Helms, having big roles in the year’s two best comedies so far).

Credit the writers, Adam Stock and Rick Stempson, for knowing exactly what kind of film they wanted to write and going all the way out on the edge to receive a laugh. Babs’ seduction of a 10-year-old would be a simple one-liner in another film. Here, Peter describes how he treats a new catcher’s mitt, as Babs orgasmically reacts to the double entendres in the dialogue. This might be the type of film that plays better on DVD than in film– it practically begs for repeat viewings and line recitations, and could pick up a cult following in the long-term. Neal Brennan, co-creator of Chappelle’s Show and director here, sometimes lets a joke go a tad bit too long; the timing of the edits feels a bit off on occasion, resulting in a few misses. This likely is the outcome of actors gifted in improvisation adding one-liners (the DVD will undoubtedly be packed with extras), but the lack of editorial restraint keeps the film from really soaring.

Yet with little buzz and no big names in the cast (although Will Ferrell does make a hysterical cameo, spoiled in the TV commercials), The Goods feels humble in its origins and thus exceeds expectations. With the economy still in the toilet, a comedy about the salesmen who are so gifted in gab that they can wring your last penny out of you seemed timely. The success of TV’s Mad Men and its similarly testosterone-laden male heroes also gives this film a hint of parody that wouldn’t have worked as well, say, two years ago. Finally, if this film had been made earlier, it likely would have gone to Vince Vaughn or another comedic actor whose name is so big that the character’s name doesn’t matter. Here, in Jeremy Piven’s able hands, we have the leader of a focused ensemble instead of a single man carrying the film or a mish-mosh of comedic actors fighting for themselves. In a summer with big-budget, big hype comedies starring Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell, Jack Black, and Adam Sandler, it’s been two under-hyped underdog ensemble flicks, The Hangover and The Goods, who achieve the most consistently funny results.

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~ by russellhainline on August 15, 2009.

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