Movie Information

Genre: Comedy
Director: Barry Levinson
Starring: Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Christopher Walken, Rachel Weisz
Rated: PG-13

The only reason to see this movie is because Christopher Walken (Catch Me If You Can, for which he should have won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar) is in it, and any time you get to see this brilliant, quirky, give-me-one-reason-I-shouldn’t-go-postal-right-now! actor do his thing is time well spent. Alas, that means you might have to see the rest of Envy as well.

I suggest you wait until it comes out on video and use the flash-forward button to speed past any scene that doesn’t have Walken in it. That’s easy, since everyone else in the movie is squeaky-clean and coiffed. Walken is the one who looks like a skid-row bum, but who speaks words of more than one syllable. (In the meantime, if you want a quicker Walken fix, go see Man on Fire, in which he plays a key supporting character.)

Envy is the story of two buddies, Ted Dingman (Ben Stiller) and Nick Vanderpark (Jack Black), who remain friends even though one of them is whacked out with envy over the other’s success. At one time, they were two bumbling cogs headed for upwardly mobile corporate boredom in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley. Then Nick came up with the idea for an invention that makes doggie poo disappear. Good-hearted inventor that he is, he offers Ted the chance to invest in his idea, but no-risk/no-regret Ted smugly turns down the chance.

Flash forward 18 months. Vapoorizer (get it: “poo,” right in the middle of the product name) is the hottest thing in infomercials since the glistening Soloflex hunks. Nick is a billionaire. His wife wears diamond earrings longer than shrimp tongs. His bratty kid plays a grand piano. Everybody eats flan for dessert. The Vanderparks have it all — servants, a yellow Mazerati, a glittering merry-go-round in the back yard, and a white stallion that would make all the bedouins in Hidalgo green with envy. But does Nick build his mega-mansion in some fancy place far away, like Bel Air or Beverly Hills? No, sirree. Being a true-blue buddy, he puts it up right across the street from his old pal, Ted.

As each week goes by, Ted grows more envious, alienating his equally envious wife (Rachel Weisz, Runaway Jury) and kids, and getting himself fired for lack of focus on the job. One night, Ted’s drunken mistake with a bow and arrow sets things aquiver. But instead of admitting that he killed Nick’s beloved horse, Ted buries it and lets one lie lead to another, creating Envy’s paint-by-numbers complications — and the occasional chuckle. Walken provides desperately needed distraction as a mirror of Ted’s descent into wrongdoing, but even his delightful menace doesn’t bring much virtue to Envy.

You have to give Stiller some slack for this turkey because he was wickedly funny as the self-absorbed male model in Zoolander (2001). And forgive Black, too, because his role as the anarchic substitute teacher in last year’s The School of Rock made it a kid classic.

As for Envy‘s sluggish pacing, and its pointless story and lack of character development — the burden for those sins should be laid not at the feet of first-time scripter Steve Adams, who’s too young to know better, but at those of well-heeled director Barry Levinson. Having helmed some fine films in his youth — Diner (1982), Good Morning, Vietnam (1987) and Rain Man (1987), among many others — Levinson has no excuse for being behind such a callous movie in his maturity.

— reviewed by Marci Miller

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