Stars: ** 1/2
Rating: PG-13 for language, nudity and adult situations
Run Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Ben Stiller is funny. His deep reservoir of neuroses coupled with an aptitude for physical comedy is a winning formula, on ample display in such comic classics as Meet the Parents, There’s Something About Mary and Flirting with Disaster. But Stiller’s shtick is getting a little moldy around the edges, replete with a been-there-done-that weariness.
This time out, Stiller plays Reuben Feffer, a Risk Assessment Analyst who shuns germs and danger and places his bedroom pillows in perfect order each night before bed. Reuben marries the perfect girl (Debra Messing as Lisa) and it’s off to romantic St. Barts for a dream honeymoon.
The couple’s virgin vows go kerplop when Lisa gets a yen for some undersea adventure, diving under the sheets with hunky French scuba instructor Claude (a hilariously unorthodox Hank Azaria).
Back in the Big Apple, Reuben licks his wounds in typical Stiller fashion, drowning his sorrows in wedding videos and the placating saccharine sympathy of best buddy Sandy Lyle (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Encouraged to play wing man for Lyle at a cutting edge gallery show for a hip Dutch painter, Reuben re-meets Polly Prince (Jennifer Aniston), an old middle-school pal who’s recently landed in the city following a decade of spirited globe-trotting.
In the grand tradition of opposites attract, Reuben falls for the quirkily incompatible Polly, enduring a string of spicy hot ethnic restaurants (much to the dismay of his Irritated Bowel Syndrome), spicier after-hours Salsa clubs (he can’t dance a lick), and Polly’s blind pet ferret (ugh).
Not surprisingly, Reuben is ultimately forced to choose between life on the edge and playing it safe. Unfortunately the filmmakers do the same, choosing a conventional narrative and a pat conclusion where zany charm and improbable chemistry would have sufficed.
Aniston is no great shakes as Polly, a carbon copy of “Friends” ditzy Rachel with a wardrobe of layered bohemian duds to distinguish the two. Her character is grossly underwritten, merely hinting at murky motivations and multiple idiosyncrasies. The small performances fare better, in particular Alec Baldwin chewing up the scenery and scoring howls as Feffer’s good ole boy boss Stan Indursky.
Freshest laughs are in the first act, when the cast manages to work its comic magic with subtle tones and implied wit. Bathroom humor (a cinematic pet peeve) does nothing to further the storyline, serving only to lower the common denominator.