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In Envy, Jack Black and Ben Stiller play coworkers. Black invents something that makes dog waste disappear. Stiller fails to invest in the cockamamie scheme and loses out on the resultant windfall. Black builds a life of absurd, cartoon opulence across the street from his friend. Stiller becomes envious and reckless.

            Everything about this movie is wretched. The screenwriter's only credit is a TV show from 1980, and given that much of the film takes from The Jerk (1979), it's possible he's been honing this script in the interim. The dramatic arc of the invention's rise and fall (did I say dramatic?) and Jack Black's foray into the high life are direct copies from Steve Martin's film, not that it does any good. A script from the '80s would also explain why infomercials and shoving a dead horse around are ripe for extended treatment.

            This movie has a certain deadness to it that has to be experienced to be understood. Director Barry Levinson seems more occupied with throwing in incongruous stylistic elements than thinking out the humor, or the lack thereof. Always interested in the past (read: his youth, as in Diner), he shoehorns that in here with random shots evoking a glossy "period look" cinematically, or even with set design (Black's apartment is inexplicably straight from the '60s). What was perhaps an attempt at an indeterminate time period merely comes off as schizophrenic.

            Speaking of which, couldn't Jack Black have been paid enough money to cut his hair as a '60s-like office worker? They just pat down his hair and go. Because, you know, it's Jack Black! His expiration as a comic notion is certainly up for me, and he and Stiller flail through what feel like failed deleted scenes. You know it's bad when Christopher Walken showing up somehow makes things worse, not better.

            Things are made still worse by the frighteningly persistent return of the excruciating theme song, an unfortunately whimsical ditty which drolly reinforces the moral lesson of whatever is currently happening, and makes you want to die.

            Other cues are provided as well. Frantic moments of shouting and loud music indicate big laugh moments. I'm not sure what the cues for normal laughter are. I might have missed them.

--- Andy Davis

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