August 20, 2009

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The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard (R)
Lots of words in a title does not a good movie make, Exhibit A being The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard, a hard little garlic knot made with leftover Ari Gold dough.

On Entourage (which, I must admit, I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch for something like two seasons), Jeremy Piven’s angry spinning top of an agent, Ari Gold, is a joy to watch. His assistant-berating, star-kissing-up-to, tough-smart-guy act is frequently the best part of any given episode. Where does all that face-reddening, smooth-talking rage go when the season’s over? He seems to lend it out to grimy low-rent movies filled with fast-talking and attempts at shock-value-filled comedy that don’t completely work.

Here, Piven is Don Ready, a man who can move a lot full of unsold cars the same way Ari Gold can move a half-baked actor into a solid career. Don Ready leads a team of salespeople of dubious ethics — the oversexed Babs (Kathryn Hahn), the looking-for-love Jibby (Ving Rhames) and the galoot-ish Brent (David Koechner) — and travels from B-market city to B-market city, selling off cars of dealerships that are in trouble and celebrating wins at the local strip clubs. When he and his crew arrive in Temecula, they face the challenge of selling a couple hundred cars over one July Fourth weekend. But this job comes with extra hurdles: a blossoming romance between Don and Ivy (Jordana Spiro), the dealership owner’s daughter, and a jealous car-selling competitor named Paxton (Ed Helms) who is also Ivy’s fiancée and a boy band member (or, as he calls it, since all the members are older, a “man band”). And then there’s the memory of “Kirky” and a mysterious something that went down there which has shaken Don to his core.

When we see the mysterious core-shaking thing in flashback it is one of the movie’s funnier scenes, featuring an impressively executed cameo. It is also instructive — it gets to the mix of absurd sight gags, raunchy humor and poking-fun-of-hero story clichés that I suspect was supposed to be the make-up of the entire movie. Elsewhere in The Goods you can see attempts at this kind of comedy styling, but in large part it falls flat. It’s like watching awkward flirting — what should be buoyant is leaden and stupid.

As with banter gone wrong, I’m not exactly sure why this movie doesn’t work. With actors like Wendie Malick, Alan Thicke, Tony Hale and the aforementioned Ready crew, there was at least the potential of some fun dirty wackiness. It feels like a misfire of chemistry — nothing clicked, nothing popped and even Piven’s Tasmanian Devil performance didn’t have the liveliness I would expect.

The title The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard feels like the result of overthinking — piling on extra words in hopes of creating an Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy vibe. But the title — and the movie itself — feels like an unsuccessful attempt to save a story by throwing more jokey-ness at it instead of trying to improve the jokes that are already there. C

Rated R for sexual content, nudity, pervasive language and some drug material. Directed by Neal Brennan and written by Andy Stock and Rick Stempson, The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard is an hour and 29 minutes long and is distributed by Paramount Vantage.