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The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard

Neal Brennan

The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard is an awful movie: let there be no mistake about that. In the paragraphs that follow, I will probably make a few statements that might lead you to conclude that The Goods is a "good movie, in its way." Resist the implication, which if nothing else is unfair to the film. The Goods is very, very good at being awful, and it deserves respect accordingly. At no point is The Goods good. There are no clever touches, witty strokes, or cheeky double-takes to suggest that, because the filmmakers know that they're making a terrible movie, the power of their intention transforms something obviously bad into something secretly good. No; we can't have that. The Goods is god-awful.

It is not, however, a dud. Although I've never seen a porn flick in a theatre, I expect that the satisfactions of doing so are much like the fun that I had watching The Goods. You are, first of all, relieved that you are alone. This is not a film to watch with friends. You don't want your friends knowing the kinks in your sense of humor. Somebody does something terrible on screen, and you laugh that's private stuff. Second, you give up trying to "save" the movie. You give up because the film's first act is so deliberately sloppy. When it is not sloppy, it is cheesy. It is never any one thing for very long. Many jokes will fly right by you simply because there are too many to keep track of. Some jokes are quite funny; others "that was a joke?" You don't keep score. Keeping score would imply that you were watching a good but flawed movie. The Goods is itself a flaw. Evaluating the jokes would suggest that you are embarrassed about sitting through a terrible movie (and not wanting to leave). Relax you're alone.

Third, there is Will Ferrell. His part is very small (think Wedding Crashers), and his principal role appears to have been that of producer. At least he has rounded up some familiar faces from other Ferrellties: Kathryn Hahn, Ed Helms, and David Koechner. In the movie (he is not even "(uncredited)" at IMDb), Mr Ferrell's character is either dying or dead; the dying is very funny. The movie may be terrible, but Will Ferrell falling to earth, dressed as Abe Lincoln and swatting away colorful sex toys, is one of those ineffable cinematic treats that cannot be explained. If this moment of goodness in The Goods confuses you, then feel free to pretend that the characters are taking an unaccustomed break from their sordid, mercantile lives, and watching a movie in which Mr Ferrell appears, dressed as Abe Lincoln and swatting away sex toys while flailing hopelessly. As a dead man, or ghost, Mr Ferrell contrives to be totally upstaged by two jive/gospel-singing angels (Gwen Stewart and Courtney Bradshaw) who point out to the hero that Temecula, where he plans to settle, is "not even Fresno," and who add, gratuitously, that he is "too old for a Facebook page."

Fourth, the role of the hero, Don Ready, is aced by the breezy, sleazy, and cheesy Jeremy Piven. Mr Piven will tempt you into forming some thoughts about salesmen in America, but, fortunately, the movie is so terrible that these notions will shrink stillborn into your mind's lumber room. Mr Piven may illustrate the art of salesmanship, or the bullshit of "motivation," but not in a way that conduces to thought. Showing you how it's done, he makes you give up on thought. Thought requires a certain neatness, and, if nothing else, The Goods reveals Mr Piven's hitherto unexplored talent for playing stubbly slobs. At the same time, even William Shatner is not as gifted at bogus epiphany.

One proof of this movie's terribleness is that its plot is too mortifying to summarize. I would look foolish and you would be embarrassed. As I said: pornography. Speaking of pornography, an early scene in The Goods features what can only be called hyperkinetic lap dancing; I was worried that Mr Piven might need a neck brace. Speaking of kinky, you should hear Ms Hahn laugh when the man her character is interested in says something witty-but-not-really. It's hard to believe that the actress played a mousy, romantically-challenged sidekick in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (her first movie!). Here, she's got her own little Jennifer Coolidge thing going. (Come to think of it, Jennifer Coolidge played a romantically-challenged character in Legally Blonde.) The story, if you insist, involves a car dealership that's facing bankruptcy, and a hustler-for-hire who files in with his crew to unload the inventory. At no point do you really care if they succeed. Whenever a sale is closed, the salesman rings a brass ship's bell in the showroom. In an ordinary bad movie, you would wish that you could root for these good guys. In The Goods, the ringing of the bell quickly becomes annoying.

What to say about the cast? I don't want to suggest that anybody's performance "saves" The Goods not even by that time-tested trick of camping things up. Take Ken Jeong, an enormously accomplished terrible actor who trails the pungent scent of some asphyxiatingly bad Seventies show. Or Charles Napier, whose IMBb page lists a staggering 191 appearances, going all the way back to an episode of Hogan's Heroes. ("(uncredited).") We'll be seeing more of them, God willing. James Brolin really terrible here is indestructible, and Ving Rhames is nothing less than Destructor. But what about Johanna Spiro and Jonathan Sadowski, both actors, born in the late Seventies, with a good deal of television under their belts, but not many film credits. Will The Goods spell the end of their promising careers? The Goods is so good at being terrible that this possibility cannot be gainsaid. They both play kiss-of-death straight roles. But Mr Sadowski is kind of sharp, and Ms Spiro has an intriguing low voice. If they take care not to make another terrible movie anytime soon, The Goods may actually give their careers a lift. But shsh! (Ed Helms is amazing, when you think about it which can happen no sooner than the next day.)

Terrible as The Goods is, it is not an "adolescent" movie, joyously celebrating the adult American male's right to refuse to grow up. Even Mr Ferrell doesn't strike that note! Nor is The Goods any kind of satire. As Mr Rhames's character puts it, "Why didn't anyone ever tell me that making love is .... so boring!" The Goods is GLORIOUSLY awful. (August 2009)

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