The Friendly Stranger in the Black Sedan
The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard
Jeremy Piven, Ving Rhames, James Brolin, David Koechner, Kathryn Hahn, Jordana Spiro, Rob Riggle, Ed Helms, Alan Thicke
US theatrical: 14 Aug 2009 (General release)
UK theatrical: 9 Oct 2009 (General release)
Ivy (Jordana Spiro) is looking awfully stuck. Blond and clever and at least somewhat self-aware in a smug-comedy kind of way, she’s looking at a future limited by her past. Not only is she living in Temecula, CA, but her dad, Ben (James Brolin) is a car salesman. So is her soon-to-be father-in-law, Stu (Alan Thicke). She’s aware that this annoyingly competitive set of legacies don’t bode well for her future, but she faces a worse problem still. Her fiancé, Paxton (Ed Helms) sings in a boy band, Big Ups (“We opened for O-Town. You can Google it”).
Worst of all, the horrible little movie Ivy lives in, The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard, is named for her designated love interest. Don “The Goods” Ready (Jeremy Piven) is a salesman extraordinaire, a grating, self-loving caricature who fondly remembers his first boyhood “sale” as a scam of his neighbor. True, that memory ends with the neighbor boy winning the heart of the cute neighbor girl (a blond, of course), but Don’s so damn good at what he does—and so loud about how good he is—that he’s able to push on, treating each sales challenge as an opportunity to prove himself anew.
It’s just such a challenge that brings him to Temecula, pop. 98,000. Seems Ben’s got a lot full of un-selling cars, and with Fourth of July Weekend coming up, well, for some apparently obvious car-salesmen’s reason, he has to move everything. Now. He calls in Don and his team, renowned mercenaries who will inject new energy into the business and make sure it’s not a “TCBY by August.” Don’s used to seducing pretty young things at each stopover, and Ivy seems ripe for conquering—just judging by her utterly bored face whenever Paxton opens his mouth. It helps Don’s cause that Paxton is an ignorant bully and a jerk, but that doesn’t mean Don’s a catch. Still, the movie pretends that he achieves maturity by wanting to settle down with Ivy. Poor her!
Ivy’s main job is to play straight-person to the crowd of miserable maniacs who surround her (in this she resembles Marilyn Munster). If she needs to move on, you can also see why she looks like a means for Don to get off his own treadmill. His life looks weak indeed. Buoyed by his crew of sleazy salespeople, he only hears again and again how brilliant and successful he is (this is a mantra managed mainly by his second, Brent (David Koechner). Yes, he’s still taking calls from employers in places like Temecula, but this has to do with a drearily backstory that leads to a flashback-guest-starring turn by Will Ferrell (enough said!).
None of his workers is especially bright or funny or visibly satisfied with the actual work. Jibby (Ving Rhames), looking weary and sometimes bored, tends to observe his fellow salespeople rather than making the pitch himself. But if his reserve grants Jibby some modicum of coolness, his fellows—in his view or yours—look generally desperate. Vavoomy Babs (Kathryn Hahn) sets her sights on Ivy’s 10-year-old brother Peter (Rob Riggle), afflicted with some medical condition that causes him to look like a 30-year-old man. Her lechery runs repeatedly into his naïvete (and his descriptions of rubbing and oiling his toys) as if it’s “transgressive” instead of the same old frankly gross humor with genders inverted.
This is the problem with The Goods in a nutshell. Its vulgarity is not new or clever or even comically shocking. It is, instead, prosaic and repetitive, if not an overt retread of Used Cars (or, for that matter, any other wannabe rambunctious comedy about adolescent meatheads meeting a minimal goal on a deadline). That this version relies on naughty patter (“motherfucking” this and that, “I’ll cut off your tits with a knife, you bitch!”) and retarded visual gags (a veritable rain of sex toys, bouncing off a car hood as a couple thrusts energetically inside) only underscores its deficiencies, its dearth of imagination and inspiration. It’s all been done before. While it remains unclear whether Ivy even realizes that—seeing as her horizons are so very limited—it’s hard not to feel sorry for her.