Sloth cinema


Rated 3.0 I laughed a lot the other night at the El Rey, but sometimes I was laughing with the film Envy and other times I was laughing at it.

There’s talent aplenty involved, and the mere presence of Jack Black and Ben Stiller in the lead roles is a virtual guarantee that amusements of some sort will occur at a fairly steady rate. But the Steve Adams-authored tale of what happens to the friendship of two suburban neighbors and family men (Black and Stiller) when one of them (Black) becomes a millionaire is an ambitious hodge-podge that squanders some of its best possibilities.

Adams and director Barry Levinson get off some nifty satire on the conspicuous consumption, berserk greed and wretched excess of the new economy in which, seemingly, everybody Wants to Be a Millionaire. But Envy is less about the blithely absurd excesses of the one character’s outsized new wealth than the Stiller character’s convoluted resentment of his giddy, and still friendly, neighbor’s largesse.

Stiller gamely struggles to make the best of a role burdened with an impossible combination of dark humor, slapstick farce, simplistic soul-searching, schlemiel pathos and goofy sentiment. Black has much better luck in a role tailor-made for his stock-in-trade moves—the idiot savant, the exuberant fraud with a big heart.