[Screen It]

(2004) (Ben Stiller, Jennifer Aniston) (PG-13)

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Romantic Comedy: After his wife cheats on him on their honeymoon, a neurotic risk assessment analyst finds himself falling for a messy, carefree woman.
Reuben Feffer (BEN STILLER) is a senior risk assessment analyst for Indursky & Sons Insurance where he works for Stan Indursky (ALEC BALDWIN). Being an expert on lifestyles, he thinks he's made the right choice in marrying real estate agent Lisa Kramer (DEBRA MESSING). Yet when she cheats on him on their honeymoon with French scuba instructor Claude (HANK AZARIA), Reuben's carefully balanced life is turned upside down.

He decides to bury himself in his work that includes determining whether adventurous Australian businessman Leland Van Lew (BRYAN BROWN) is insurable or not. Reuben's best friend and former movie actor Sandy Lyle (PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN), however, thinks that Reuben needs to get back into the saddle right away.

Accordingly, they attend a party where Reuben runs into Polly Prince (JENNIFER ANISTON), a former middle school classmate who's working as a waitress. Despite the two being opposites, they're attracted to each other. From that point on, and with Lisa returning and asking for forgiveness, Reuben must decide whether he should play it safe with her or live on the wild, unpredictable and potentially risky side with Polly.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
When it comes to actors and actresses, one of the worst things that can happen to them - at least in their minds - is to be typecast as a certain character or character type. Despite being loved in their respective roles, the likes of Sean Connery and Leonard Nimoy grew to hate their Bond and Spock characters, mainly because they feared they'd be unable to break free of the public and industry's view of them in those parts.

Of course, since so few performers actually make a living plying their trade, most would probably love to suffer from such pigeonholing and/or typecasting. It certainly does seem that some of those who have made it have apparently accepted - perhaps temporarily - the roles seemingly earmarked for them.

One such player appears to be Ben Stiller. Although he tried branching out into other roles and genres, his repeated appearances as the lovable and irritated "loser" are only further cementing his status as that sort of character.

He continues that in "Along Came Polly," a film that nearly plays as a highlight reel of his former parts. There's the goofy last name like in "Meet the Parents," the furry little animal whose abuse is played for laughs as in "There's Something About Mary" and yet another bathroom problem and other crude humor that's different but thematically similar to what we've seen before

Then there's the fact that he's simply playing the same sort of character - the put upon guy who's part geek, doofus, and loser -- albeit a lovably funny one -- with the same sort of responses to unwelcome developments as he's done in various films.

Writer/director John Hamburg ("Safe Men," writer of "Meet the Parents") obviously knows the actor's comedic strengths and sets him up with various signature set pieces that should have his fans - and much of the general public - in stitches from time to time as this generally entertaining if awfully familiar comedy runs it course.

In the film, Stiller plays a risk assessment analyst whose new wife cheats on him, thus prompting him to return to the dating scene. It's there that he meets a former childhood classmate - played by Jennifer Aniston -- who's grown up into the kind of woman he'd otherwise never date. Yet, they start seeing each other and she helps him overcome his slightly neurotic, risk-adverse tendencies.

That's a fine setup for comedic complications and such, but the filmmakers unfortunately aren't imaginative or even consistent enough in playing off that premise. With such a plot structure, the picture would seem ripe for plenty of fun and hilarious mishaps featuring his reaction to any number of risky ventures, but it never takes full advantage of that or the abundant, "opposites attract" comedy potential.

Of course, some of the former has been siphoned off into a subplot featuring former hot Hollywood actor Bryan Brown ("F/X," "Gorillas in the Mist") as an adventurous Australian businessman who wants Stiller's character to insure him. Brown is fun in the role, but those thematically similar moments do steal some of the thunder from the film's main plot.

What the film does have going for it is a terrific cast. Beyond the aforementioned players, there's Philip Seymour Hoffman ("Cold Mountain," "25th Hour") as an actor still living off his self-imagined laurels of appearing in one movie long ago. Debra Messing ("Hollywood Ending," TV's "Will & Grace") plays Stiller's new bride who cheats on him on their honeymoon with a French scuba instructor terrifically played by the shockingly muscular Hank Azaria ("Shattered Glass," "America's Sweethearts"), while Alec Baldwin ("The Cooler," "The Cat in the Hat") appears as Stiller's unorthodox insurance boss.

They all get their share of individual laughs as the filmmakers have fashioned any number of funny moments and material for them. Yet, there's no denying that this is Stiller's vehicle. With his previous experience, he certainly knows how to play the lovable sap and manages to milk humor from most any situation in which he's placed.

It's Aniston, however, who often steals the show. Although hers isn't as flashy a comedic performance as his, she continues to prove that she's a continually improving movie actress. Following some shaky performances in her early films, she's now feels quite comfortable on the big screen and nicely complements here dramatic work in "The Good Girl" with her effort here.

Thanks to her, Stiller and the others' efforts, the film is fairly entertaining to behold and offers some decent laughs. I just wish that the filmmakers had taken more imaginative and clever steps in playing off the basic premise and character setup. That probably won't be a big issue for people looking for a Stiller comedy, but it does prevent it from living up to its potential. "Along Came Polly" rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed January 13, 2004 / Posted January 16, 2004

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