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Dustin Putman

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The Goods:
Live Hard, Sell Hard  (2009)
1 Stars
Directed by Neal Brennan.
Cast: Jeremy Piven, Ving Rhames, James Brolin, David Koechner, Kathryn Hahn, Ed Helms, Jordana Spiro, Craig Robinson, Tony Hale, Ken Jeong, Rob Riggle, Alan Thicke, Charles Napier, Jonathan Sadowski, Noureen DeWulf, Wendie Malick, Bryan Callen, Joey Kern, Kristen Schaal, Will Ferrell.
2009 – 89 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for sexual content, nudity, pervasive language and some drug material).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, August 12, 2009.
A plucky ensemble does what they can with "The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard," but this broad comedy set in the world of car salesmen is more lame and obnoxious than actually witty. The characters, pretty much all of them caricatures with only a passing resemblance to real human beings, aren't nearly as riotous as they are supposed to be, and the story they are in spins its wheels with subplots that go nowhere and an ending that can be seen coming from a mile away. Director Neal Brennan, making his feature debut after working on TV's "Chapelle's Show," fails to distinguish himself from other mid-level comic-based filmmakers, and screenwriters Andy Stock and Rick Stempson toss out whatever outlandish and crude dialogue they can think of in hopes that some of it sticks. Very little of it does.

Ben Selleck (James Brolin), owner of auto dealership Selleck Motors, is in dire straits, his company on the verge of going under or being sold off if sales don't improve. Enter ultra-convincing hot-shot agent Don Ready (Jeremy Piven) and his gang of gung-ho professional car-movers—Jibby Newsome (Ving Rhames), Brent Gage (David Koechner) and Babs Merrick (Kathryn Hahn)—hired to come to the California town of Temecula and sell off Selleck Motors' stock during the Fourth of July weekend. While there, this foursome teach Ben's employees the art of mind games and wheeling and dealing, and hilarity supposedly ensures.

"The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard" is scattershot fodder at best, a big waste of time at worst. Following an early scene where Don Ready persuades a stewardess (Kristen Schaal) to allow him to smoke and turns the flight into a raucous, hard-partying free-for-all, the movie plants itself in and around Selleck Motors. Most of the shtick gets old quick, whether it be Ben's ongoing flirtation with Brent after admitting to him that he's in a dead marriage with Tammy (Wendie Malick), over-the-hill car dealer Dick Lewiston's (Charles Napier) tendency to shout racial and homophobic epithets, or the hired deejay's (Craig Robinson) inappropriate playlist. There's a dreary subplot involving Don's suspicion that 22-year-old worker Blake (Jonathan Sadowski) is his estranged son, and a romance-free love story thrown in where Don tries to woo Ben's daughter, Ivy (Jordana Spiro), despite her engagement to insufferably pretentious thirty-something boy band singer Paxton Harding (Ed Helms). The less said about the visiting of a ghost (Will Ferrell) equipped with gospel back-up singers, the better.

The two side stories that kinda-sorta work are Jibby's search for true love—he thinks he finds it with fetching hired model Heather (Noureen DeWulf)—and Babs' uncontrollable attraction to Ben's 10-year-old son Peter (Rob Riggle), whose growth disorder has left him looking like a 30-year-old man. As Heather, Noureen DeWulf (2009's "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past") has an easy charisma to her that extends well beyond the constraints of her role on the written page, and the delectably dead-pan Kathryn Hahn (2008's "Step Brothers") is so game and zany as Babs that she deserves her own movie. Indeed, when a "where-are-they-now?" postscript at the end informs us that Babs has become a nurse at an all-boy's boarding school in Connecticut, it comes off as such a crazy and original notion that one wishes they could have made a film about that rather than the one he or she has just sat through.

In his first big lead role since winning accolades for HBO's "Entourage," Jeremy Piven (2007's "Smokin' Aces") paints Don Ready as smarmy and cocksure, two characteristics that are certainly suitable for the part. Unfortunately, Piven fails to ever make Don likable, which puts a major damper on caring about what happens to him. As love interest Ivy, Jordana Spiro (2005's "Must Love Dogs") struggles to locate redemption in a character who is written as mentally deficient and later callous; she stays with fiancé Paxton even though it's apparent to everyone that he's a douche, and then leads Don on and sleeps with him without guilt or remorse for anyone else. It is only after Ivy is dropped by her boyfriend that she comes running back to Don, making her even more pathetic.

"The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard" could have been more agonizing to sit through. As is, it is merely a disposable failure. Would-be funny moments and lines of dialogue arrive with the crushing silence of a joke falling flat, and this happens over and over. Some characters show promise—Babs is easily the standout, as when she gives an inappropriately sobering pep talk about the inevitability of defecating at the moment a person dies—but the actors do not have anything really worthwhile to work with or sink their teeth into. The film just wanders along, complacent and insincere as it heads down a dead-end street.
© 2009 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman