Friday, September 10, 2010

"The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard" (2009)

Starring Jeremy Piven, Ving Rhames and Kathryn Hahn
Written by Andy Stock and Rick Stempson
Directed by Neal Brennan

From the red-hot producing team of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, ("Anchorman," "Step Brothers," "The Other Guys" etc) comes "The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard" about a group of mercenary car salesmen hired by a desperate lot owner to save the family business over the 4th of July weekend.

Don "The Goods" Ready (Jeremy Piven) is a master salesman.  He makes a living by dragging his team everywhere across the country to car lots that need quick sales boosts.  The team: Jibby (Ving Rhames), gruff but sensitive; Brent (David Koechner), Don's right hand man; and Babs (Kathryn Hahn), who will use sex to sell anything.  They're hired by Ben Selleck (James Brolin) to come to his car lot and make some huge sales over the 4th of July weekend before he loses the lot to the bank, and to his #1 competitor: Stu Harding (Alan Thicke).

Don and his team arrive and start whipping Selleck's sales team into shape.  He suspects that Selleck's best salesman, Blake, might actually be his son.  Apparently Don had come through this particular town years earlier and had a fling with a local beauty queen, and other details start to match up as well, leading Don to embarrassingly attempt to win Blake's affection.  Don also quickly begins to fall for Selleck's daughter, Ivy, who happens to be engaged to Harding's son, Paxton (Ed Helms). 

After the first day of the sale is a total success, Harding and Selleck enter into a bargain: if Selleck and Don can sell every single car off the lot, Harding will concede.  If they can't, Selleck will give the lot to Harding so Paxton can use it as a practice space for his boy band ("Man band!") the Big-Ups, who once opened for O-Town ("Google it!").  So while that first day was a huge win, the second day is an unmitigated disaster after a riot erupts in the parking lot, provoking a police response.  Don manages to save the day by offering police discounts, but that leaves what seems like an insurmountable challenge for the third day.  Add that Don seems to be suffering from some kind of emotional breakdown over the death of his friend McDermott (Will Ferrell) on a previous sale in Albuquerque, and you've got yourself a third act.

"The Goods" is a pretty middling comedy.  It has a good pedigree, coming from a successful producing team and a cast totally over-stuffed with well-known comic actors.  There's not a single face in this movie you won't recognize from other movies, stand-up or popular sitcoms.  Therein also lies the movie's problem.  Every single cast member is playing the same thing you've seen them do a zillion times before.  Piven is the fast-talking con-man with the heart of gold, Ed Helms is a smarmy douche, Ken Jeong gets to be the wacky Asian (a shtick that, frankly, got old even before "The Hangover"), Rob Riggle is a big doofus, Craig Robinson is cool and sarcastic, etc.  It goes on and on.  So while "The Goods" is funny, it also doesn't offer you anything you can't get anywhere else, which makes it feel just too familiar or repetitive.  Even when the characters are given some slight amount of emotional heft, it's eventually played for comedy instead, robbing any chance that the characters might become truly endearing.  Piven's lone scene where he realizes that his life on the road is empty not just for him, but in regards to how others view him, he plays like a petulant child which comes off more grating than funny.  On the flip side of that, however, Ving Rhames' subplot about never having "made love to a woman" ends up exactly where you expect it, and is pretty funny at the end.

But in general the movie is fairly funny.  Though most of the movie I spent merely chuckling at the jokes, I was doing so at a pretty consistent rate.  Sprinkled throughout are a couple of truly inspired moments (such as Ferrell's absurd skydiving dildo scene) that up the ante a bit.  The script is full of funny lines, but it's not as quotable as "Anchorman" or as absurdly surreal (save again for Ferrell's appearances, or Ed Helms' boy band dance scene).  And while "Anchorman" would delve into the world of news anchors in a very genuine way (albeit wrapped in bizarre comic stylings), "The Goods" can't manage the same within the world of car sales.  It has glimpses of constructing that kind of world, where Don's team are living out of suitcases and hotel rooms, but it never really manages to explore the concept, let alone mine any real comedy out of it aside from the occasional remark about having "lots of points."

The film also somehow decides not to give us a happy ending, as the fates of the characters are revealed via subtitles, which seems to come out of left field.  Not a single one of them comes out on top after everything we went through watching them succeed in saving the car lot.  It feels kind of like a big "fuck you" to the audience rather than genuine humor.

I guess I say that I liked "The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard" but it is far from the best thing we could've gotten out of all the amazing people that worked on it and appear in it.