Along Came Polly

In Tim Burton’s “Batman,” Jack Nicholson’s character, The Joker, has been so physically deformed that he sports a perpetual grin. Good news or bad, the phony, forced grin stretches from one ear to the next. That’s how I felt watching “Along Came Polly,” a comedy that could have and should have been much funnier than it is.


There I sat, through one lame joke after another, with that crap eating grin on my face, wondering how so much good could go so bad so fast. “Along Came Polly” is road tested, yet writer- director John Hamburg can’t get it out of neutral. Here’s a romantic comedy that should be cruising in fifth gear, and the best Hamburg can deliver is the occasional first grade, excuse me, first gear bathroom joke. Jeff Daniels accomplished the ultimate toilet bowl gross out gag in “Dumb and Dumberer,” so everything else is just a runny imitation.

Besides, Ben Stiller deserves better than sour stomach gags. He’s funny, he’s loveable, and he plays to type in “Along Came Polly” as Reuben Feffer, an insurance company risk assessor who’s so wrapped up in his work he can’t assess that his new bride (Debra Messing of “Will and Grace”) is a tramp until he catches her going down with the SCUBA instructor on their honeymoon.

Following the advice of his friend, a former actor played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Reuben starts making the scene, and bumps into free spirit and bohemian Polly Prince (Jennifer Aniston), a former classmate now working as a waitress. Like two ships crossing in the night, Reuben and Polly find safe harbor in each other’s arms and beds, leading to an awkward romance filled with offbeat friends, pets, and complications.

At least Hamburg sees them as offbeat. The film’s quaint moments seem over defined, designed to make us laugh even when they’re not really funny. It’s sad to see Stiller and Aniston wade through the muck to find the script’s occasional diamonds in the rough. There’s obvious chemistry between Stiller’s anal retentive analyst and Aniston’s flighty spirit, but Hamburg isn’t smart enough to stand back and let it blossom.

Stiller is a master of self-depreciation. We buy him as a loser because we know that deep down he’s a good guy, and good guys almost always prevail. In “There’s Something About Mary,” his obsession with Mary borders on stalking, but we never perceive him as a threat. That’s why we’re not as surprised as Reuben is when he catches his new bride in the sack with another man (Hank Azaria, drowning in another thick accent). She knows what his reaction will be. So do we.

The more I see of Aniston, the more I like her. It wasn’t always that way. It took me a while to get past that “hair” thing, but lately Aniston has been choosing roles that not only challenge her, but the audience as well. Her performance as a bored small town wife in “The Good Girl” was a revelation. Her comic chops have also sharpened over the years, as last year’s “Bruce Almighty” and now “Along Came Polly” attest. She’s sweet, vulnerable, and sparkles with each and every word that comes out of her mouth.

Too bad the words don’t sparkle as well. It’s odd that someone who penned some of Stiller’s funniest on-screen moments fails the actor as a director. This is Hamburg’s second feature, and you can see what he had in mind, but as the films’ writer and director, there’s no one around to say no, this isn’t working, let’s write it a different way, or shoot it like this. Hamburg is left to his own devices, and they obviously need fine tuning.

Polly Wants a Crack-Up

Why this caged bird doesn’t sing

ALONG CAME POLLY

Ben Stiller, Jennifer Aniston, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Debra Messing, Alec Baldwin. Directed by John Hamburg. Rated PG-13. 90 Minutes.

LARSEN RATING: $4.00



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