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Universal Studios

Official Site

Director: John Hamburg

Producers: Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher

Written by: John Hamburg

Cast: Ben Stiller, Jennifer Aniston, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Debra Messing, Alec Baldwin, Hank Azaria

Rating: out of 5

Normally I find Ben Stiller so hilarious that I would pay to watch him, say, floss his teeth. His best work, in movies like Flirting With Disaster, There’s Something About Mary, and Meet The Parents, has established and perfected Stiller’s shtick: He is a well-meaning fuck-up saddled with an uncontrollable tendency to explode with impotent fury at exactly the wrong time. This routine has afforded him tremendous opportunities to showcase his ability to make people laugh. It’s a real shame that an uninspired by-the-numbers romantic comedy like Along Came Polly can put his talents, along with those of the rest of the normally very funny cast, to such poor use.

The film opens with the storybook marriage of Reuben Feffer (Stiller) and Lisa Kramer (Messing, of “Will and Grace” fame). On their honeymoon, Lisa does him wrong by sleeping with a French scuba instructor. Depressed and lonely, Reuben quickly rebounds when he meets Polly (Aniston), a former junior-high classmate, at a party. But Reuben and Polly are different sorts of people. He is a risk-assessment analyst at an insurance agency who prefers to keep things safe, while she is a (groan!) free-spirit whose life is characterized by frequent moves and dead-end jobs. The two are stumbling toward a resolution to these incompatibility issues when Lisa reappears, saying she wants to make amends. Reuben must decide which woman he wants to have in his life, and, if it’s Polly, convince her to abandon her free-wheeling lifestyle to stay in New York with him.

The film suffers from a whole host of flaws, but the most serious of these is the poor characterization of the romantic leads. It’s difficult to see why these two are attracted to each other and then, once they seem to have a relationship going, why they’re having any problems. The previews for Along Came Polly make much of Reuben’s risk-aversion, but this device only appears sporadically, playing a principal role in neither Reuben’s personality nor the couple’s relationship. Instead of the high-concept of the premise of Ben Stiller avoiding everyday activities because of their riskiness, the film quickly degenerates into yet another romantic comedy about the difficulties that ensue when an uptight person is in love with a freewheeling one. Polly, for her part, is not even a real person. Like the female leads in most romantic comedies, she is pretty, charming, and quirky, but that’s about all we know about her. There’s really no reason to believe that the best thing for each of them is to be together, or, for that matter, to care what happens to either of them.

One might think that if anything could redeem this movie, it would be funny and talented performers like Hank Azaria, Alec Baldwin, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. The various subplots have so little to work with that all three are visibly trying way too hard to put some comedic meat on the bones given them by the script. Azaria, as the scuba diver who sleeps with Reuben’s wife, is impossibly buff (Who knew?), but his ridiculous French accent is way over-the-top. (He only appears in two or three scenes.) In an out-of-place subplot involving a wealthy man who needs an insurance policy, Baldwin employs some sort of obnoxious voice as Reuben’s overbearing and unclean boss. Of the three, Hoffman has the biggest part as Reuben’s longtime friend Sandy, who has never gotten on with his life after having once been a child actor. An unshaven, disgusting egomaniac, Sandy could possibly have been funny in the hands of a more straightforwardly ridiculous actor like Jack Black, but on Hoffman, the role feels more degrading than anything else.

Along Came Polly offers nothing that hasn’t been done better somewhere else. Though the film teeters dangerously close to atrocious, the charm and old-college-try attitude of its cast merits it a promotion to the merely forgettable.

—Mike O’Connor


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