2004-05-28 / Columnists

MovieScope By Robert Snyder

MovieScope By Robert Snyder

‘Envy’ –Money Madness

One of the most famous movies about greed is John Huston’s "Treasure of Sierra Madre." In it, Humphrey Bogart’s character goes absolutely wacky when gold comes into his possession, seething with paranoid jealousy over the fictitious intentions of his prospecting partners. Far below its predecessor’s lofty pedestal, Director Barry Levinson’s "Envy" covers much of the same material, but in a comedic way.

The concept common to both films is that big money can come between friends in a big way. While "Envy’s" friendly enemies end up burying the hatchet, "Madre’s" main man, Fred C. Dobbs (Bogart), finds himself with a machete in his back. Either way, it’s money that makes the madness.
"Envy" has Ben Stiller and Jack Black playing neighbors Tim Dingman and Nick Vanderpark in a nondescript California suburb, from where they ride to work together as white-collar cogs at a sandpaper factory. Based on their monthly evaluations, Tim secures a slight promotion, while any advancement for Nick is curtailed by his lack of "focus." Like Ralph Kramden of "The Honeymooners," Nick’s focus is on get-rich-quick schemes. Tim swats away his buddy’s constant barrage of ideas, including one of which Nick is enamored enough to ask for a $2,000 investment. The idea is "Vapooizer," a spray that magically disintegrates pooch poop, making dog walkers’ lives much more bearable.

Before the envious eyes of Tim and wife Debbie (Rachel Weiz), the Vanderparks become zillionaires overnight, thanks to Vapooizer’s super success. Wanting to remain next door to his best friend, Nick upgrades his house into a palace of conspicuous consumption, complete with an indoor bowling alley, sparkling carousel and archery range. As he drives to work alone each morning, Tim waves goodbye to Nick who rears up on a magnificent white stallion named Corky. In fact, money is so plentiful that Nick’s wife Natalie (Amy Poehler) decides to venture into politics, launching a campaign for a seat in the State Senate on the environmentalist platform. Natalie’s aspirations become the only fly in the Vanderparks’ opulent ointment as hecklers harass her with signs posing the important question about Vapooizer: "Where does the poop go?"

Overwhelmed with fury over his neighbor’s good fortune, Tim insults his boss, loses his job and finds himself in a bar with hippie, wastrel J-Man (Christopher Walken). When he learns that Tim accidentally killed Corky, J-Man concocts a plan for Tim and him to hide the horse, pretend to discover it and collect the $50,000 reward that naive Nick is offering.

Despite the potentially explosive premise, "Envy" has few comic fireworks. Stiller is doing his uptight straight-man victim routine, which he perfected in "Meet the Parents." Black is too nice, using a miniscule amount of his manic mannerisms from "School of Rock."

Still, "Envy" is amusing, though not wildly so. Best to wait for it to come to cable, unless you’re in serious need of silliness.

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