Directed by: John Hamburg
Starring: Ben Stiller, Jennifer Anniston, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Alec Baldwin, Debra Messing
If it weren't for the ferret, this movie would be a total dog.
With Along Came Polly, it's clear that John Hamburg (best known for penning the Ben Stiller comedies Meet the Parents and Zoolander) thinks he's the heir apparent to Woody Allen. Sadly, he's not even the heir to the early Farrelly Brothers. Hamburg does actually have the basics of an ersatz-Allen picture here: neurotic Jewish hero (Stiller) and kooky WASP girlfriend (Jennifer Anniston) in an unlikely romance. There are even traces of the Tony Roberts character from Annie Hall in Philip Seymour Hoffman's delusional sidekick. But it's at that point that the similarities end -- in a veritable deluge of botched slapstick, lame life lessons, and that apparent requirement of the modern comedy, toilet humor.
Indeed, this last element is so pronounced that -- much like last year's not-dissimilar A Guy Thing, also out in January -- it's hard not to wonder if someone involved is a major stockholder in American Standard. However, since about half of Polly's major bathroom scene was encased in the film's trailer, you can't say you weren't warned.
Hollywood seems convinced of late that nothing will bring in an audience faster than a bowel movement. It truly makes one long for the old days of Tinseltown's contempt for the audience by presuming that the average viewer had the intellect of a 12-year-old. OK, so maybe that's not so different after all -- except that the censors have now loosened up along with Hollywood's digestive system.
It doesn't help that the non-scatological aspects of Polly's script aren't appreciably better. Despite the fact that the trailer already handed us the movie's basic premise, Hamburg still spends over a reel setting up the concept that newlywed Reuben Feffer (Stiller) gets cuckolded by his bride, Lisa (Debra Messing, Hollywood Ending), whose doing some bedroom snorkeling with Claude (Hank Azaria, Shattered Glass), a smarmy, French scuba-diving teacher. Granted, the film does need some setup of its own, but if Hamburg's going to expend in excess of 20 minutes getting us to a point we already expect, then all that screen time had damn well better offer more entertainment than exposition. It doesn't.
The movie's just killing time on its way to the central romance between Reuben and Polly (Anniston) -- apparently content in the belief that Stiller is funny even without any material (he isn't), and that Hank Azaria with a bogus French accent and no clothes is irresistibly hysterical (ditto). Once Polly charts these well-worn seas, it moves into setting up the mismatched romance -- and, again, the trailer got there first. Starting to detect a pattern?
The film's central problem is that it's not surprising. The story to this 90-minute movie can be -- and has already been -- told in two-and-a-half minutes. What's left is a limp assortment of standard romantic-comedy mechanics and predictable, feel-good life lessons. You just know, for example, that Reuben's supposed romantic rival is going to turn out to be gay. And if you can't guess that our hero's taciturn dad (Bob Dishy, Jungle 2 Jungle) will suddenly speak up and put everything into perspective, then you probably haven't seen too many movies in your life. All that remains is a wrap-up borrowed from Breakfast at Tiffany's, substituting a ferret for an orange cat, and a movie that tries to glide by on the personalities of stars Stiller and Anniston.
And, likable as they both are, the ferret comes off better.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke