After "There's Something About Mary," "Meet the Parents" and "Duplex," it seemed Ben Stiller had played characters who've humiliated and injured themselves in every imaginable way and had every possible bodily fluid spew from them or spill on them.
Now, along comes "Along Came Polly," in which Stiller gets carried away on yet another wave of gross-out gags, all of them desperately straining for laughs, few of them truly earning any.
As in those earlier films, Stiller plays the straight man - this time, an obsessive risk assessor named Reuben Feffer.
Reuben falls for free-spirited Polly (Jennifer Aniston), an old friend he hasn't seen since the seventh grade, after his bride (Debra Messing) cheats on him during the first day of their honeymoon with their French scuba instructor (a muscular, naked Hank Azaria).
(And yes, the casting does feel very "Must See TV," adding to the movie's sitcommy vibe.)
Among the horrors that befall Reuben while he's dating Polly: Moroccan food, which exacerbates his irritable bowel syndrome; a plugged toilet afterward, which he tries to unclog with a loofah; Polly's blind pet ferret, who runs headfirst into furniture; and pick-up basketball against a shirtless man who's sweaty, hairy and fat.
The episodic jokes from writer-director John Hamburg (who also wrote "Meet the Parents") quickly feel repetitive; the film's choppy pacing doesn't help.
The film does benefit, however, from a stellar supporting cast, which includes Philip Seymour Hoffman as Reuben's best friend, a has-been '80s child star; Bryan Brown as an adventurous Australian billionaire seeking insurance coverage from Reuben's firm; and Alec Baldwin as Reuben's slick, schmaltzy boss, a role reminiscent of Baldwin's excellent work in "The Cooler."
But Reuben and Polly are so insurmountably different (and Stiller and Aniston have so little chemistry, despite their individual charms) that it's hard to imagine why they should end up together, and hard to care.
Reuben is so overly cautious, he's an uptight bore. And Polly is flaky to the point of being pathological - not just lovably scatterbrained, like a character Goldie Hawn might have played in the early '70s. After showing surprising range in "The Good Girl," this is unfortunately another forgettable movie in which she plays someone's girlfriend.
Stiller needs to get out of this rut. We know from movies like "Reality Bites," "Permanent Midnight" and "The Royal Tenenbaums" that he has enough depth that he's capable of much more than just being the butt of jokes.
Even "Zoolander," which Hamburg co-wrote and Stiller directed, had a fun, goofy energy - and a notable lack of nauseating humor - that made it endearing in a way "Along Came Polly" never is.
"Along Came Polly," a Universal Pictures release, is rated PG-13 for sexual content, language, crude humor and some drug references. Running time: 90 minutes. Two stars out of four.
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