A comedy like Along Came Polly is basically critic proof. You can only report back that you either laughed or you didn’t laugh. Sadly, try as it may, the movie didn’t make me laugh. Not once. Not at all. Not even a meager smile. That has nothing do with my mood at the time, which was silly and perfectly ready for a movie like this. I went in with the same mood that I took to There’s Something About Mary and hoped that his movie would have that movie’s comic zeal. This was not to be. Despite the movie’s good-hearted intentions, it couldn’t register anything with me but stone-faced indifference.
I’m not being mean. I am merely making the case that whatever this film is trying to do, it fails at it over and over again. It stars Ben Stiller as Reuben Feffer, a nice guy who specializes in risk assessment. He’s the guy who can point out all the things in your immediate living space that can kill you. As the movie opens, he is marrying Lisa (Debra Messing) who, based on the look on her face, is probably less enthusiastic about getting married than he is. That’s especially the case when, during their honeymoon, he watches her get on a boat with a hulking French scuba instructor named Claude (Hank Azaria) and catches them in an act of coitus that was so spontaneous that they forgot to take off their swim fins.
Depressed by the humiliation, Reuben returns back home to finds that everyone in his immediate hemisphere is aware of what Lisa did, not least of all, his buddy Sandy Lyle (Philip Seymour Hoffman) a former child star whose star has fallen so low that people remark that they assumed he was dead.
At an art gallery showing, Rueben runs into Polly Prince (Jennifer Aniston), an old acquaintance from school that based on his current situation, he immediately falls in love with. She’s a nice girl, but flighty and impulsive – she’s the kind of girl that makes up her mind and changes it four times before she stops talking. It might seem reasonable that given the way Reuben tip-toes around risks, that he might not be interested in a girl who has a pet ferret whose getting along in years, but if she weren’t his opposite then this might not be a romantic comedy.
That attraction sets up a lot of unfortunate moments, including a scene in which Reuben accepts an invitation from Polly to a North African Spice restaurant, despite the fact that he suffers from irritable bowel syndrome. The scene doesn’t play as funny as it might have. Neither does a scene in which he goes Salsa dancing in comfortable shoes and gets angry when Polly does and erotic dance with a good looking dance instructor named Javier (Jsu Garcie). No points for guessing that when Reuben orders him away from Polly, Javier reveals that he is gay. Another scene that doesn’t work takes place in Polly’s apartment when Reuben, sick from the restaurant, accidentally finds himself using her grandmother’s handmade towel for toilet paper. This scene too goes nowhere. There are a dozen scenes like that. They are set up with the hope that they will explode with comic zeal but they just kind of end with a whimper.
It is not for lack of trying. The cast is full of actors given potentially funny parts to play. The best is Philip Seymour Hoffman who puts on a rendition of “Jesus Christ Superstar” and at the last minute announces that he will be playing both Judas and Jesus. THAT I would like to have seen but it doesn’t go anywhere. There’s also Alec Baldwin as Reuben’s shark-like boss who has a toast at his wedding that builds nicely and then just flatlines. Then there’s Bryan Brown whom Reuben is suppose to find a way to insure despite the fact that he likes to base jump off of the roof of his office. Even the jokes about the ferret fall flat. What a disappointment.