This past weekend the ensemble comedy The Watch hit theaters and before you could say the word "brosef," the bad reviews poured in. Our own Pete Vonder Haar gave the movie "one and a half Trojan Magnums out of five", and, compared to some, his review came off as overly nice! Movie reviewer Cole Smithey, who I have never heard of but whose opinion I trust because it is on the Internet, is quoted as saying, "Could it be that Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, and Ben Stiller have lost their respective knacks for making audiences laugh?" Ouch.
I will excuse Jonah Hill and Vince Vaughn for their lack of laughter in this film. Hill is young and since he's lost weight, he's trying to figure out his place in a thin person's world of comedy. Vaughn, on the other hand, has been phoning it in for years, so it is almost difficult to call him a comedian anymore (Seriously, Four Christmases?)
Ben Stiller, however, we expect more from, or at least we should. In Forbes's most recent list of top-paid actors, Stiller comes in at a whopping number five. From July of last year until this past month, Stiller raked in $33 million. Stiller is one of those actors who get movies made based on their interest in a script. He is by far the most famous comedian of this current generation.
But take a stroll down Stiller lane over the past ten years and what do you think you'll find? Will it be a list of laugh-out-loud, knee-slapper films or a record collection of "mehs?" In the past decade, Stiller has played leading man in such brilliant comedic works as Meet the Fockers, Starsky & Hutch, Along Came Polly, Little Fockers, Tower Heist and now The Watch (and obviously I am being facetious). Granted, intermingled in this decade, Stiller pulled the fabulous Tropic Thunder out of his ass, but other than that, the above list is looking pretty slim in the funny category. Slim enough to ponder the question: Is Ben Stiller completely overrated?
The New Yorker published a very lengthy article in its June issue chronicling Stiller and the "dilemma of modern stardom." In addition to his fame, the article focused on Stiller's latest magnum opus, the forthcoming The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, based on a James Thurber short story which already claims a film adaptation starring the inarguably funny Danny Kaye. What the New Yorker article stated, in its many, many words, is that Stiller is a perfectionist and notoriously a pain in the ass to work with. This is not new information. Given this speculation, however, you'd think the guy could spot a crap script or at the very least live up to his funny fame.
True enough that Stiller brings bodies into the box office and in terms of dollar signs, who cares if the movie is funny or not, he is king of his domain. Well, let's take a time out for a minute and think of other comedians who were at the top of their game, yet sunk below the face of the Earth and had to struggle to find their way back into La La Land's good graces. Eddie Murphy was the greatest thing since peanut butter and fluff throughout the 1990s until someone realized that he stopped making funny movies a decade prior. Adam Sandler and Mike Myers have recently fallen victim to the fact that, oh yes, they actually can do wrong.
So when will Stiller be put into this same category, and why have we (the funny-movie-viewing public) allowed him to go this long making crap movies without chastising him for it? Why is it okay for Stiller to crank out another poor comedy such as The Watch, but Sandler's That's My Boy has been decried as the nail on his proverbial coffin?
Stiller has been playing the frustrated, loser underdog for years; it's what his entire career is based on. Stiller is the schlub who never catches a break, which makes him that much more lovable. We want him to win in the end. So whether he has wowed us with his comedic skills or not, we will always root for him. Compare Sandler's go-to persona with a Sandler or Myers. These guys play assholes who demand that their audience and supporting cast show them the light. Stiller is the light!
Stiller wasn't always "not funny"; in fact, he used to be incredibly hilarious. Something happened somewhere between There's Something About Mary and Dodgeball that pigeonholed the guy in the worst of ways. All of a sudden he was throwing down the slapstick, lowbrow funny card rather than the intelligent humor card that he so adeptly used to play. How many times can we watch Ben Stiller hyperventilate and freak the 'eff out about such and such before it gets old? How many Fockers movies can one guy make in the woods before no one bothers to watch them anymore?
I for one still have faith in Stiller. Despite the New Yorker article shedding something of a negative light on Stiller, it reminded its readers of the reason we all fell in love with him in the first place. He used to be really funny! If his recent (decade-long) unfunny streak is because the guy is only good when he is running the show, then hopefully this anticipated Walter Mitty movie will give him the redemption he desperately needs. And if starring in, producing and directing his own movie doesn't do the trick, there's always that "pretend" Arrested Development movie coming out soon, and Tony Wonder needs a comeback!