On the night Jack Black appeared on his show last week, David Letterman
turned to the camera and said, "Let me tell you something: If you're
looking for a movie and you see an ad with Jack Black's name in it, go
to that movie, because I guarantee this guy will do something that makes
it worth watching."
Trust Dave. The raunchy slapstick comedy "Saving Silverman" is poorly
constructed. For every joke that works there are three that fail. But I
laughed out loud a lot during this tasteless farce, thanks to the
inspired goofiness of the amazing Jack Black, along with Steve Zahn,
Amanda Peet and, in a truly surprising performance, R. Lee Ermey. It's
easy to picture the Three Stooges looking down from Comedy Heaven,
whacking each other with ball peen hammers while saying with pride, "Ah,
our legacy lives on."
The story revolves around three lovable dumb guys who have been best
friends since childhood. Wayne (Zahn, the funniest actor in "Happy,
Texas," "That Thing You Do" and numerous other comedies) earns his
living in the varmint control field, driving a truck that reads, "Cowboy
Wayne: Pest Posse and Rodent Wrangler." J.D. (Black, the chief record
store god in "High Fidelity" and one half of the satiric cult rock duo,
Tenacious D) is a dedicated Subway employee best known for attending the
high school prom with a tuxedo painted on his naked body. Along with
their buddy Darren Silverman (Jason Biggs, the pastry aficionado from
"American Pie") they channel their fanatical appreciation of Neil
Diamond by performing in the tribute band, "Diamonds in the Rough."
All is well until one night at a local bar, when J.D. and Wayne decide
to help their pal overcome his depression. Darren has the blues because
he never mustered the nerve to ask out Sandy (Amanda Detmer), the high
school cheerleader of his dreams. Their solution is to maneuver him to
the table of a beautiful woman who appears to be out of his league.
Big mistake. Judith (Amanda Peet, scene-stealer from "The Whole Nine
Yards") is pure evil, a manipulative psychologist who makes Darren her
love slave. "He's my puppet," she says with authority. "And I'm his
puppet master." After one disastrous visit with the boys ("A beer bong
for m'lady?" offers J.D., the perfect host), she orders Darren to quit
the band and stay away from his friends. In short order, she announces
Horrified beyond belief, J.D. and Wayne decide they must save their
brainwashed friend. The plan they cook up is, in their eyes, simple and
logical: Kidnap Judith, fake her death and fix Darren up with Sandy, who
is about to become a nun. But Judith is no meek captive. Dipping into
her arsenal of mind games, she works wicked psychobabble hoodoo on her
Not enough plot for you? How about this: The boys must also deal with
their mentor ("Stay away from women. All they want is your man juice!")
and former football coach (Ermey), fresh from prison and eager to help,
although most of his solutions involve murder.
This all may read as generally hateful, and misogynistic in particular,
until you compare it to any Three Stooges film. Most of the slapstick
plotlines pitted Moe, Larry and Curly against either bosses or women.
"Saving Silverman" plays in the same sandbox – with a lot more crude
sexual subtext, of course.
Unlike "There's Something About Mary," which was consistently hilarious,
"Saving Silverman" is a hit and miss affair. Director Dennis Dugan ("Big
Daddy") is a gentle, nice man, but he does not know how to stage a scene
for maximum comic effect. An uneven script that makes some fundamental
mistakes further hampers him. Jason Biggs' character is overly bland; he
doesn't fit with J.D. and Wayne. Gags set at Sandy's nunnery don't
deliver and an appearance from the real Neil Diamond fails to pack the
comic punch it should.
Thank goodness for the rest of the cast. Sharp and focused, Amanda Peet
makes a great villain and the most dangerous kidnap victim since Bette
Midler in "Ruthless People." Steve Zahn is a wonderful cartoon,
displaying perfect timing and wisely underplaying some of the film's
most outrageous moments. As always, Jack Black works his pudgy, manic
magic, letting Zahn dominate most of the shtick while providing riotous
backup. But the big surprise is R. Lee Ermey, best known as the
ferocious drill sergeant in "Full Metal Jacket." Playing wildly against
type, he gives an incredible no-holds-barred performance and handily
steals every scene he is in, an even more remarkable feat when you
consider that he shares most of his screen time with Zahn and Black.
Bottom line: "Saving Silverman" is an awkward, spotty, poorly staged
dumb guy comedy that still made me laugh a lot. Jack Black did something
to make it worth watching, as did Steve Zahn, Amanda Peet and R. Lee
Copyright © 2001 Edward Johnson-Ott