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Starring Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Christopher Walken, Rachel Weisz and Amy Poehler. Directed by Barry Levinson. Written by Steve Adams. Produced by Barry Levinson and Paula Weinstein. A DreamWorks release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for language and sexual/crude humor. Running time: 99 min.
Ben Stiller's filmography now officially has its own genre: When Bad Things Happen to Ben Stiller. If you really need to see Ben Stiller accidentally kill his second equine in as many movies and look panicked as things spiral out of control, then you have a reason to see "Envy"; otherwise, let's hope that dodgeball flick next month is funny.
In a dream pairing turned waking nightmare of wasted potential, Stiller and "School of Rock's" Jack Black play best pals Tim and Nick, whose friendship is put to the test when the latter gets ridiculously rich off of his wacky invention while the former bitterly regrets having refused to invest in the scheme. Nick is blissfully unaware of Tim's resentment and generously inundates him with extravagant but frivolous gifts. These cannot assuage Tim's consuming remorse at the missed opportunity for an equal share in the empire, an anguish compounded by the cutting remarks of his glowering wife (Rachel Weisz). In case we didn't pick up on Tim's state of mind from his clenched jaw and resentful scowls, stanzas of a didactic ditty intrude every few scenes to tell us that if you "covet what your neighbor's got/Your life will turn to diddly-squat/And everything will rot." Sure enough, everything that can go wrong does. Well, not everything; mostly, it's just that Tim inadvertently shoots Nick's beloved horse with an arrow, and then takes the advice of a disheveled Christopher Walken--always a bad idea--as to how to cover up the mishap. Antics with half-dug pools, earth-movers, cranes and a road trip to the woods with a horse carcass strapped to the car roof ensue. Forever. Or so it seems.
One wonders--impatiently--how events could possibly wrap up in a satisfactory way. Scripter Steve Adams does manage that trick, but the ebullient humor of the last scene only underlines what the rest of the film is lacking.