The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard Director: Neal Brennan Starring: Jeremy Piven, Ving Rhames, James Brolin, Kathryn Hahn Belatedly bounced into the movie-star league thanks to his role in the hit TV series Entourage/i>, Jeremy Piven makes a juicy meal out of thin ingredients in this fast-paced knockabout comedy. The 45-year-old actor gives a revved-up performance as the charismatic, sleazy, loud-mouth boss of a maverick team of car salesman called in to save a struggling small-town dealership from imminent bankruptcy. His main weapons are a massive ego, a flair for rousing patriotic rhetoric, and no scruples at all.
Packed with rude humour and crudely drawn caricatures, The Goods is essentially a Will Ferrell vehicle with Piven standing in for the rubber-faced comic. Ferrell has a producer credit, alongside the director of Anchorman and Talladega Nights, Adam McKay. He also makes a brief but memorable appearance as a hotshot fellow salesman. The director, Neal Brennan, trained in TV sketch comedy, and it shows in this disjointed and episodic romp. The film is saved from disaster by a wham-bam script and a strong ensemble cast. Piven brings solid acting credentials, and even playing boorish and cartoonish roles, he manages to smuggle in a hint of emotional realism.
Piven's colourful supporting cast also share an agreeable screen chemistry. Besides the B-movie heavyweights Ving Rhames and James Brolin, it includes seasoned character players from the cream of US television comedy. Ed Helms and David Koechner feature in the American version of The Office, while Kristen Schaal is a regular on Flight of the Conchords. Although none is playing at peak form, all share a deadpan and understated style that works better than the clownish mugging usually seen in madcap comic vehicles such as this. Indeed, there is a smarter and more serious movie lurking inside The Goods that never quite shows its hand. From Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman to David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross, the struggling salesman has long been a dramatic metaphor for American capitalism at the sharp end. Anyone making a black comedy about morally and financially bankrupt car dealers in an era when the US motor industry teeters on the brink of total collapse might have spotted the chance to make deeper, more topical points about the current economic climate.
Alas, Brennan and his writers prefer to maintain a breezy and brisk tone, always favouring lowbrow laughs over dramatic weight. But taken on its own undemanding terms, The Goods offers anarchic, politically incorrect fun. A second-rate film with a first-rate cast, it squeezes plenty of comic mileage from its likeable stars. * Stephen Dalton