No such luck

Neil Diamond teaches “Brother Loves’s Traveling Salvation Show” to Jack Black in <i>Saving Silverman.</i>

Neil Diamond teaches “Brother Loves’s Traveling Salvation Show” to Jack Black in Saving Silverman.

Rated 2.0

Saving Silverman is a wannabe Farrelly Brothers comedy (imagine a clean-cut, spineless There’s Something About Mary leading man paired with Dumb and Dumber sidekicks) that does a better job substituting Vancouver, Canada, for its American locales than harvesting the ripe comic talent of Steve Zahn and Jack Black.

Zahn played stoner crooks in Out of Sight and Happy, Texas, and the love-struck bassist in Tom Hanks’ That Thing You Do. Black played the abusive vinyl connoisseur in High Fidelity, manic emergency room intern in Jesus’ Son and ventriloquist trainee in Tom Robbins’ Cradle Will Rock. Here these two proven scene-stealers have only few moments worth pocketing as their own.

Cast respectively as moronic buddies Wayne and J.D., they try to keep the third member of their Neil Diamond tribute band (American Pie’s Jason Biggs as Darren) from marrying the wrong woman: a hardcore bitch and psychologist named Judith (Amanda Peet). This is no easy task for a pair of uncouth wiseguys who have turned their home into a cheesy Diamond museum and spray each other with beer while watching football on TV.

“He does what I say,” Judith tells the two meddling oafs. “He is my puppet and I’m his puppet master.” And she is right. She makes Darren quit playing music and hanging out with his pals. She makes him get butt implants (and we are asked to watch). And she doesn’t invite Wayne and J.D. to their engagement party.

The two social Neanderthals can’t find a suitable replacement for their band, so they crash the party and threaten to somehow pry their soul mate from his fiancée’s grip. It’s a task that involves consultations with a former high-school coach (R. Lee Emery) who is serving time for manslaughter, the return of Darren’s former flame (Amanda Detmer) who is about to become a nun and the kidnapping of Judith.

Director Dennis Dugan (Richie Brockelman, Private Eye) cut his directing teeth on TV shows before helming Happy Gilmore and Big Daddy. Here he fills the screen with cleavage while doing very little else to distract us from the dead space and lameness of Hank Nelken and Greg DePaul’s script.

Tasteless atrocities include the exhumation of a young woman for use as a body double in which comments are made about the deceased’s breast size, a snide remark about the “whiny family” of a murder victim and the inclusion of a horny elderly Asian man who sputters in broken English. Material that is questionable under the film’s PG-13 rating includes implications that Judith enjoys premarital oral sex (Darren has an obvious sore jaw) and then passes Darren lotion so he can take his sexual desires into his own hands.

This is not to say that Saving Silverman is devoid of huge laughs. Zahn brings some hilarious mannerisms to the party as the dim-witted pest control man who was cosmically linked to superstar Diamond when his pregnant mom broke her water during a 1972 concert. Also, his wrestling match with an irate raccoon is an uproarious highlight. Emery, who parodies his drill sergeant role in Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 Full Metal Jacket, proves to be the most reliable saving grace of the film.

Diamond, the star of the 1980 remake of The Jazz Singer, even makes an appearance. Like most of the cast, he spouts both amusing (“I’ve spent my whole life singing about the healing power of love and now’s my chance to do something about it”) and painful lines (“Hey, we’re coming to America,” he says as the van in which he is riding nears W. America Avenue).

Saving Silverman may have also worked better without its several flashbacks. Scenes in which a lactose-intolerant J.D. pukes in a school lunchroom and Judith accompanies her fiancé to a Thailand kick boxing match bring the more current story to a standstill. Maybe this wouldn’t have been such a disappointment if the film’s trailer hadn’t been so funny and full of energy. Maybe having Diamond sing “Holly Holy” and “Hello Again” is flashback enough for any movie. Then again, maybe not.