There are a lot of people in Hollywood who have one thing that they do well. Jeremy Piven is one of them. Julia Roberts was the go-to girl for romantic comedy heroines for many years. Vince Vaughn plays the sleazy guy who secretly has a heart of gold under his layers of sarcasm. Seth Rogen is the default pothead sidekick kind of guy. If you want to evoke a certain style for your movie’s hero, and you want to seem like the PCU guy grew up to become a car salesman before becoming an agent, then Piven is the guy you need. He’s your default fast-talking salesman/con artist.
Piven plays Don Ready, the world’s best car salesman, in a role that was undoubtedly written for him. He’s a hired gun, moving from town to town with his crack sales team of Jibby (Ving Rhames), Brent (David Koechner), and Babs (Kathryn Hahn). When Ben (James Brolin) Selleck’s car dealership is at risk of failure, Don is the man who answers the call.
Sales is Don’s life, but when he meets the beautiful Ivy (Jordana Spiro), all bets are off. Well, except for the one Don makes with rival auto dealership owners Stu Harding (Alan Thicke) and son Paxton (Ed Helms), who just so happens to be engaged to Ivy.
The challenge is set for Don and his crew. Sell every car on the lot of Selleck Motors, or the company will go bankrupt and the Hardings will take over and Don will be forced out of town. Don is up to the challenge, but the problem is Ben’s sales force. They’re terrible, and the bad economy hasn’t helped them. Can Don do it? That’s what we’ll find out.
If I were a trendier critic (or a real critic), I’d complain that Piven only gives us one performance in every role he plays. However, I’m not that guy. So long as the act stays fresh, I don’t mind it. It’s not time for Piven to go off and play Norman Bates in a remake of Psycho yet, nor would I ever want that. For right now, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.
In The Goods, Piven’s character is the leader of the pack, but wisely, he leaves a lot of the comedy work to his ensemble cast, and what a cast it is. This is a movie chock full of recognizable faces from a variety of comedies, most of which were great. From David Koechner of Anchorman fame, this summer’s hot boys from The Hangover (Ed Helms, Rob Riggle, and Ken Jeong), to veteran actors like Alan Thicke and James Brolin, and character actors like Charles Napier and Arrested Development‘s Tony Hale, this is a movie stacked with ‘Hey, I recognise that guy!’ moments. It’s kind of the antithesis of The Hangover (aside from the carry-over guys) in that it’s a lot of guys you’ll know instantly from other work.
The script, from the basically unknown Rick Stock and Rick Stempson, plays out pretty well. The jokes come heavy and hot in the beginning, as Don and his crew integrate with the Selleck team, and the movie stays pretty consistently funny thanks to Charles Napier’s wonderfully angry and outburst-prone Dick Lewiston. Also stealing scenes is the wonderful DJ Request played by Craig Robinson, who is all over the place lately and consistently putting in funny work. Once Jeremy Piven’s character starts to undergo the required change of heart that all movies tend to force on crass pricks, the film does lose steam joke-wise.
Will Ferrell’s inevitable cameo doesn’t really help, either. He has a few decent moments in a thankfully limited role, but… yeah, I’m done with him, and I know I’m not the only one who is getting a bit sick of him. At least it moves fast, thanks to director Neal Brennan, who cut his teeth on Chappelle’s Show and is making his feature film debut. As such, there’s not a lot of fancy camera work to be seen, but the movie moves quickly and even when jokes thud the movie doesn’t linger long before throwing something else amusing in your general direction.
While The Goods is going to pale next to a movie like The Hangover (especially with inviting the comparisons with so many shared cast members and with both being adult comedies), it’s really not fair. The Goods, despite the detour at the end, is still a damn funny summer comedy. It has flaws, and gets a little too serious in the final act, but the first two acts are funny enough to make up for it.