I had a sneaking suspicion I would like “The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard”. Yes, Jeremy Piven has become tiresome both with his stale Ari Gold character and his personal diva-like behavior in the public sphere. But the film had a strong bench and when you surround yourself with reliable comic talent, you can get something really fantastic.
With “The Goods”, that’s an understatement. Hit the jump to find out why this is one of the funniest comedies I’ve seen all year.
There are big, mainstream comic talents in Hollywood. They’ve all paid their dues with supporting roles or cut their teeth on TV comedy, but guys like Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Chris Rock, or Will Ferrell (just to name a few) can write their own paycheck. But then there are the character actors and the background comedic talents. They’re the guys and girls whose names you can’t remember until you force yourself to do so because you see them so often and love them every time. They’re the scene-thieves who show up briefly in a scene but vanish before they can steal the entire film. They’re what I and others like to call “secret weapons” and with one notable exception in a cameo role, they comprise the cast of “The Goods”.
Some may find the story pedestrian until it clicks that it’s supposed to be familiar and reminiscent of another type of film except it punctures the bubble and tears itself away every chance to deliver the most laughs.
With his dealership about to go under, Ben Selleck (James Brolin) calls in Don Ready (Piven) and his team of hired guns (Ving Rhames, David Koechner, and Kathryn Hahn) to sell cars and save the business from bankruptcy. These used car salesmen (and woman) are the type who don’t see a problem eating breakfast in a strip club or really anything that may be considered highly dubious. Actually, if you were to take a highly dubious action and then push way past it, you’ll find these characters having unprotected anal sex with the situation in a dumpster or a Chuck-E-Cheese.
Ben’s business is in pretty bad shape and it doesn’t matter that the employees are suffering low morale because they’re played by folks like Ken Jeong, Tony Hale, and in one of the film’s standout performances, Charles Napier of all people. He would be that delightful, foul-mouthed elder except when he punches you in the face and shoves every slur he can find down your throat. It’s a dealership full of salesmen husks but Ready and his crew are going to life these withered souls up and, as his business card says, “sell cars, motherfucker.”
When they’re not trying to boost morale at the dealership in the sleaziest manner possible, each member of the team has their own little arc with Ready as the central arc, the other three have less consequential but far funnier stories of their own. Ready’s haunted by a tragedy in “Kirkey” as he falls for Ben’s daughter (Jordana Spiro) who’s already engaged to a man (Ed Helms) who works as a high-class importer but his true passion is taking his band (which opened for O-Town!) to the next level. And, as he assures us, it’s not a Boy Band. It’s a Man Band. So Ready has to confront his demons while competing to win the affection of the boss’ daughter who’s in relationship with a textbook douchebag (whose father is played by Alan Thicke) and has only three days to move 210 cars off the lot and win the dream girl’s affection. Can he do it?!
Do you see it yet? Do you see the structure this film is conjuring? If you guessed 80s teen comedy, you’ve won! Just replace with the off-beat teenage stars with a bunch of foul-mouthed, morally bankrupt characters the structure feels more like an asset than a burden (although it doesn’t specifically subvert the genre quite like it needs to). Even if the structure doesn’t work for you, there are countless great gags in every scene.
Let’s get Piven’s performance out of the way since I’m sure he may be the biggest hurdle for those who may want to see the film. Piven is acceptable. In a way, he’s playing a leader of the unsung comedic character actor because that’s what he was until “Entourage” landed him three Emmys. And even then, he’s not a leading man. Liek almost every other actor in the movie, he has never been considered a leading man. He doesn’t get those roles; he backs up actors who do and then steals the film from them. The irony here is that Piven doesn’t steal this film because he’s playing the leading man. Thankfully, while Ready is a fast-talking, sleazy, constantly-swearing ass-hole, he is not Ari Gold. He’s far less annoying than Ari because at least you don’t know what joke Don Ready has next but you know it’s not going to be another one-liner made at the expense of a gay Asian assistant.
“The Goods” truly belongs to the all the other secret weapons. It is a celebration and spotlight of their talent and they do not disappoint. A closeted Ben is constantly hitting on a highly uncomfortable Brent Gage (Koechner) and it’s one of the film’s smart plays to have a more dramatic actor do such low-brow comedy but since he’s the only “serious actor” in the film, it doesn’t feel overdone. Jibby Newsome (Rhames) has never made love to a woman. He’s done every sexual act known to man (and hearing him list them off is enchanting) but he’s never “made love”. And Babs Merrick (Hahn) is trying to sleep with Ben’s son Peter (Rob Riggle) which would be fine except Peter is 10 and he only looks like he’s in his 30s due to a pituitary condition. In the best and sickest of the main storylines, Babs tries to sleep with him anyway.
“The Goods” does have a few flaws. Spiro doesn’t get to make a single joke or even an irreverent comment. Also, even when you understand the parody of Ready’s storyline. it still feels forced and unfunny when you compare it to the free-flowing madness of everyone else in the film. But with sick one-liners, imaginative ad-libbing, and comic-timing that can be improved but never taught, “The Goods” is the kind of comedy where you walk out of the theatre reciting lines and remembering all the fantastic scenes.
Except you probably won’t be walking out of the theatre for “The Goods”. You’ll be in the theatres for “District 9” or “G.I. Joe” or “The Time Traveler’s Wife” and next week you have to see “Inglourious Basterds” so there’s really no place for “The Goods” to break through. Where I believe (or at least hope) “The Goods” will find its following is on DVD. I think it has a bright future as a cult comedy because on DVD, there’s less reliance on big-name stars and more on word-of-mouth. And even if it doesn’t become a cult-comedy classic, I’ll certainly be picking it up and showing it to my friends. If you’ve already seen “District 9” this weekend and you have a little spare time, go see “The Goods” and get ahead of the curve.
Rating —– B+