Neal Brennan is perhaps best known for his work as a driving force behind the Comedy Central smash, “Chappelle’s Show.” A student of sketch comedy, Brennan brings his bite-sized mindset to the silver screen with the awkwardly titled feature, “The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard.” It seems Brennan’s instincts for comedy gold are either limited to the three-minute format or require the participation of Dave Chappelle. On his own, Brennan offers little in the way of an inner-monologue, executing a lewd comedy that has no middle speed between agreeable stillness and cringing vulgarity.
Fearing the loss of his suburban California car dealership to bankruptcy, Ben Selleck (James Brolin) has decided to call in the experts to save his business. Enter Don Ready (Jeremy Piven) and his team of gifted car salesmen (including Ving Rhames, Kathryn Hahn, and David Koechner), who barrel into the dealership with a game plan to turn misfortune around. Spinning the lot into a party, Don creates a tornado of consumer buzz, giving a willing throng of buyers a chance to overpay for their used cars. Don also comes into contact with Ben’s daughter, Ivy (Jordana Spiro), hoping to pry her away from her idiotic fiancee, Paxton (Ed Helms).
“The Goods” is zany, wild stuff, and there’s nothing mean-spirited about the material. It’s a broad farce, a play on snake oil temperaments of used car salesmen who spend their lives in perpetual hustle. However, that’s giving the film credit for a big idea, which is poison to Brennan’s sensibilities. “Goods” is a scattergun of throwaway jokes and non sequitur humor, snowballing like a movie that was made up on the spot, with every new production day a stunning surprise for the cast and crew. There’s really no plot to speak of here, and the characters are loose “SNL” cocktail napkin doodles infused with improvisational gymnastics to give them life. Brennan is laser-focused on punchlines, not the overall impression of “Goods,” which leaves the film an afterthought, squeezing the joy out of the shenanigans quickly after takeoff.
Brennan isn’t much of a director, and “Goods” reinforces its amateur-hour atmosphere by encouraging the cast to immediately sprint to vulgar humor once their leashes are removed. The raw humor is portioned out by the shovelful, overused to a migraine-inducing degree. It’s not the actual coarse comedy that I have a problem with, it’s simply that Brennan doesn’t understand when the needle hits red, pushing the talent further into pointless cursing just to keep the audience awake. It seems like such a waste to assemble a solid B-list cast of comedians and give them only shock value to work with. The juvenile nature of “Goods” feels heavy and unnecessary, especially when it never lets up. Equally as pathetically insistent are the topics for ridicule, including homosexuality, the mentally challenged, and boy bands.
Yes, there’s a subplot in “Goods” that follows Paxton and his quest to form the most successful boy band around, topped off with jokes about O-Town and the Backstreet Boys. Either “The Goods” was scripted in 1999 and nobody bothered to update the references or Brennan is holding the daughter of a Paramount Vantage executive at gunpoint in his basement until release day, because there’s no reasonable explanation made as to why we’re forced to sit through ‘N Sync jokes in the year 2009. On second thought, maybe it was better to have the cast curse their way into a shtick coma.
“Goods” leaps for absurdity (Craig Robinson plays a besieged strip club DJ who refuses to take requests, Don promotes a concert by Bo Bice’s brother Eric for the eager customers), slapstick, and plenty of performance volume, yet nothing rouses a smile. Even a requisite cameo from producer Will Ferrell is largely humorless due to a banal presentation. “The Goods” swings spastically for guffaws and jolts, but it’s more successful at eliciting blank stares or, during certain sequences, complete disbelief that something this jumbled and directionless could find a theatrical release.