Dumb and Dumbest

Not even the multitalented Jack Black (center) can compensate for the sadistic and sophomoric antics of Steve Zahn's and Amanda Peet's characters.
Joseph Lederer

The man who made Problem Child, Beverly Hills Ninja and Brain Donors -- movies that are to humor what Robert Downey Jr. is to clean living -- has, perhaps all too explicably, become Hollywood's most coveted and celebrated comedic director. "From the director of Big Daddy" -- so blares the trailer for Saving Silverman, touting Dennis Dugan as though he were the man who brought you Citizen Kane. Standards have slipped so low that we're now supposed to be excited when one of Hollywood's most pedestrian filmmakers tosses yet another stink bomb into theaters. It's as if the guy existed in an alternate dimension, a bizarro universe where Carrot Top and Yahoo Serious are box-office draws, and Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider and David Spade are Algonquin Round Table wits offering up never-ending bons mots -- when not passing gas.

This time out, Dugan is peddling revenge fantasy as gross-out comedy. The title refers to the efforts of two buddies, Jack Black's J.D. and Steve Zahn's Wayne, who try to save their pal Darren Silverman (American Pie's Jason Biggs) from marrying a heartless control-freak psychiatrist named Judith (Amanda Peet). Darren, a loser since high school, can't believe his luck when so beautiful a woman agrees to go out with him; he's willing to be Judith's slave in exchange for the opportunity to share her bed, even though she won't touch him. J.D. and Wayne realize Darren's made a horrible mistake around the time Judith refuses to partake of the beer bong, and they set out to separate them, going so far as to kidnap Judith (much of the movie reeks of a Ruthless People redo). Their old high school coach (R. Lee Ermey) proposes they "off the bitch," but Wayne and J.D. are too cowardly -- and too lazy. They only want Judith out of the way so Darren can fall for his "one and only love" from high school, Sandy (Amanda Detmer), who's only days away from taking her final vows as a nun.

According to the press notes, screenwriters Hank Nelken and Greg DePaul conceived the film's premise while attending a friend's wedding -- at which, no kidding, the pal was marrying the wrong woman. Saving Silverman is their belated warning -- and their vengeance. Accordingly, the film is about as misogynistic as an Eminem album: Judith's such an emasculating witch the only thing she doesn't do is cut off Darren's testicles and wear them as earrings. She's at once the hottest woman around (only porn and Erin Brockovich reveal so much cleavage) and the coldest: "He's my puppet," she says of her would-be fiancé, "and I am his puppetmaster." Her idea of intimacy is forcing Darren to go down on her for hours, after which she tosses him a nudie mag and a bottle of lotion -- his "masturbation privileges," she sneers, before threatening to revoke even that small pleasure if Darren doesn't disown his two pals.


Saving Silverman

Rated PG-13

What's most frustrating about the movie is that beneath the bile and bitchiness passing for laughs, there are occasional moments of inspired brilliance: the handful of flashback scenes that recall Airplane's flights of lunacy, Jack Black's promotion from sidekick to star, and the use of Neil Diamond as both cultural icon and kitsch totem. J.D., Wayne and Darren share an abnormal affection for Diamond: J.D. and Wayne live in a ramshackle house that also serves as their self-proclaimed Hall of Neil, and the three friends don their own shiny togs and thick wigs to perform on street corners as Diamonds in the Rough, perhaps the world's only all-Neil cover band. Diamond even shows up as a campy version of himself.

But the film is so mean-spirited and juvenile that Diamond's appearance serves only as a relief; finally, here's something to laugh at without feeling the need to shower later. As if to one-up the Farrellys and American Pie's Paul Weitz, Dugan and his screenwriters have tossed in enough sicko humor to satisfy the most stunted third-grader: shots of an old man's puckered ass, footage of silicone being slipped into Darren's sliced-open tuchus, Ermey's line about how all women want is "man juice," Zahn's futile attempt to give himself a blow job. If you wanted to be kind, you might say Saving Silverman is just anal-retentive.

Were it not for the presence of Black, who steals any scene in which he shows his elastic mug, Saving Silverman would be the kind of comedy you forget while watching it. As J.D., Black is both Harpo Marx and John Belushi -- hysterical when silent, amusing when roaring. The movie's smart enough, at least, to make some use of Black, who's never tried harder to be more likable, which is actually one of the film's biggest flaws; no one this funny should have to strain for laughs. Here, he gets to play both an aspiring musician who's half as good as he thinks he is and the loudmouth who lacks internal monologue. (J.D. is, frustratingly, a dumbed-down, slobbed-out version of his record store clerk in High Fidelity.) But not even Black can elevate such mundane material. It's like asking a single man to lift a sunken car off the bottom of a lake.

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