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"SAVING SILVERMAN"
(2001) (Jason Biggs, Steve Zahn) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: When two men can't convince their friend that his girlfriend is the wrong woman for him, they set out to do what they can to break up the relationship.
PLOT:
Darren Silverman (JASON BIGGS) and his buddies Wayne (STEVE ZAHN) and J.D. (JACK BLACK) have been best friends for years and even have a band, Diamonds in the Rough, named after their musical idol, Neil Diamond. Since Wayne, a pest control wrangler and J.D., a fired Subway employee, know that Darren, a social worker, has never gotten over Sandy (AMANDA DETMER), the girl of his dreams from school, they decide to fix him up with someone else.

Their latest target is Judith (AMANDA PEET), a pretty but vexed psychologist they spot in a bar. Although Judith initially wants nothing to do with Darren, the two hit it off and become romantically involved. Once around the demanding and unfriendly new girlfriend for several weeks, however, Wayne and J.D. decide she's not the right woman for him, particularly after she tells Darren that he must quit the band and never see his friends again.

Unfortunately, Judith has already proposed to him and Darren seems unable to see what sort of woman she really is. As such, Wayne and J.D. then set out to do what they can to break up the relationship, including kidnapping Judith, reintroducing Darren to Sandy who's about to become a nun, and enlisting the aid of their former football coach (R. LEE ERMEY) and even Neil Diamond (NEIL DIAMOND) himself in their scheme.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
Most everyone is familiar with the United Negro College Fund commercials that stated, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste" and I recall some comedian in the past doing a riff on that old saying by stating that a mime is also a terrible thing to waste. While I'm not so sure about the latter, wasting cerebral talent or potential is an unforgivable crime whether it's related to serious or comedic circumstances.

In that regard, the filmmakers responsible for "Saving Silverman" are guilty of such negligence, general malfeasance and making a "comedy" that's near unbearable and certainly not very funny to watch. I think the appropriate sentence from this judge of cinematic matters would be one hundred lashings with a wet noodle and thousands upon thousands of hours of community service in Hollywood informing others how not to make a comedy.

Not only does the film waste every bit of potential related to it, but it will also waste your time, patience and mind in the process. Chief among its sins is its amazing ability to neuter the comedic talents of both Steve Zahn ("Happy, Texas," "That Thing You Do!") and Jack Black ("High Fidelity," "Jesus' Son") who are usually terrific as comedic supporting players and appear here as the film's "big guns," but fire absolutely nothing but blanks.

Of course, some of that blame should be leveled against director Dennis Dugan ("Big Daddy," "Happy Gilmore") and screenwriters Hank Nelken and Greg DePaul (the straight to video "Totally Irresponsible") for the way they've conceptualized the characters. Nevertheless, one can only hope that the two actors had been hypnotized into delivering the sort of performances they do, as their constant overacting is the type that's so extreme and embarrassing that it actually makes the viewer uncomfortable to watch it.

Many comedic performances are exaggerated and/or go over the top by nature and can be both accepted that way and come off as terrific if executed just right. While all of that's naturally a matter of one's tastes for such matters - after all, some loved the material in "Dumb and Dumber" and "There's Something About Mary" while others hated it - what transpires here will strain even the acceptance levels of those who adore such idiotic material, as the performances go too far without the accompanying clever, funny or hilarious results.

Then again, if you've enjoyed Dugan's similar style work in various past Adam Sandler films, maybe you'll get a kick out of watching Zahn swinging a fake raccoon around after it's landed on his head and Black having spaghetti hanging from his mouth while eating it. Or maybe you'll find the sight of nuns pumping iron and hitting the bag in the convent gym and a character receiving "butt implants" as hilarious. The rest of the world that has any sort of advanced neural activity occurring above their shoulders will probably think otherwise.

As such, the filmmakers should shoulder a great deal of responsibility for the chronic case of comedic misfiring that occurs throughout the film. Not only do they require that the performers overact and behave inconsistently - the kidnapping victim flip flops between being a woman who can easily handle her own and the stereotypical, fleeing damsel in distress type character - but they also squander the underlying plot's basic, if somewhat limited potential.

While the story -- of two men trying to undermine their friend's relationship with a woman who's obviously wrong for him - may not be terribly complicated or original (many films and sitcoms have played with the same basic notion), it does have some inherent, promising material. Unfortunately, both the set-up and execution of such potential is severely mishandled here.

As is the case with the related performances, comedic plots and most of their ensuing developments are usually given more latitude in their degree of credibility (or lack thereof) than their more dramatic counterparts, but what's offered here stretches even that to paper-thin levels. The central relationship in question between the easy going guy and his overbearing and mean girlfriend/fiancée isn't believable in any sense of the word and it's never really explained what either party sees in the other. As such, that pretty much negates most everything that follows as far as the two friends trying to undermine their relationship and then pending marriage.

The resultant whole hostage bit - where the two bumbling idiots kidnap a "victim" who will obviously outsmart them - has been done countless times before, and with the absence of any decent comedic performances to inject some originality into the proceedings, the recycled plot and related gags can't do anything but flounder.

It certainly doesn't help that both Jason Biggs ("Loser," "American Pie") and Amanda Peet ("The Whole Nine Yards," "Whipped") constantly look as if they'd rather be doing most anything else than appearing in the film, and the chemistry between them - be it romantic, sexual or even adversarial - is completely absent. R. Lee Ermey ("Prefontaine," "Full Metal Jacket") is the film's one bright spot as he does a comedic take on his drill sergeant character from that Stanley Kubrick film, but Amanda Detmer ("Boys and Girls," "Final Destination") doesn't bring anything to the table as a woman who must decide between Darren and God.

Considering the running gag about the friends' fanaticism with real-life singer Neil Diamond, it's no big surprise when he shows up and - purposefully or not - delivers some bad acting and "in" jokes related to his famous song lyrics in the film's grand finale. Yet, he's certainly not the deus ex machina necessary to help this film. All of which is too bad since this is the sort of picture that could have been saved - or at least partially redeemed -- by some simple alterations and/or additions to the plot and the way (and reasons behind the way) the characters act, that might have transformed it from an idiotic to a clever or at least somewhat better made film. Alas, that obviously wasn't the filmmakers' intent.

When watching films like this, one's mind - if not already wasted by what's being fed into it - is apt to wander and then wonder whether those making them actually think that such overacting and stupid material is truly funny. Apparently, they did here, and while some less discerning viewers may enjoy what's offered, most everyone else will likely find "Saving Silverman" boring, annoying and decidedly less than hilarious. The film rates as a 2 out of 10.




Reviewed February 3, 2001 / Posted February 9, 2001


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