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Along Came Polly

At some point, everyone is that guy. That guy who tells a joke so humorless that nobody can even feign laughter; that guy who makes a comment so inappropriate that everyone around sneers as they turn away. Ben Stiller, on the other hand, is that guy all the time. His specialty is portraying a likable guy for whom everything goes painfully wrong, despite his good intentions.

In his newest film Along Came Polly, Stiller reprises his familiar role as Ruben Feffer, a risk analyst able to quote the odds of everything from being run down by a car while crossing an intersection to falling through a sewer grate while walking down the street. And because he is aware of the danger inherent in everything, he shies away from anything with even an iota of risk. At the outset of the film, his life is in order. He has a great job and a beautiful wife, but when things take a turn for the worse, he is forced to re-evaluate his outlook on life. Enter Polly (Jennifer Aniston), a nomadic, commitment-phobic waitress who is every bit as spontaneous as Ruben is cautious.

Ben Stiller and writer/director John Hamburg (Meet the Parents) have once again teamed up and they haven't changed their formula for success. However, an element is missing in Polly that makes this project less successful than their previous effort. The surrounding cast is not very entertaining. Sure Alec Baldwin, as Ruben's slightly too crude and forward boss, and Hank Azaria, as a French scuba instructor, provide some comic relief, but their screen time is limited.

The other major supporting role is given to Phillip Seymour Hoffman - normally a superb choice. However, though it pains me to admit it, for the first time in memory, he badly misplays a role. Expectations are heightened anytime his name appears in the cast list, but the annoyance he causes in his appearances far outweighs any levity he brings to the picture. Never to be confused with a physically attractive man, the sight of him in skin-tight gray sweatpants is positively nightmarish.

It seems unfair to request a more sophisticated brand of humor from a Ben Stiller film, but that is exactly what is needed. The majority of the humor is derived from two primary topics: Stiller's improperly functioning digestive tract and the severe physical trauma endured by Stiller's client, Leland Van Lew (Bryan Brown). Simply put, there is a limit on how much fecal humor a single film should contain and that amount is exceeded here. Ditto for the bodily injury. All too often, these two gimmicks are used to try and score the big laugh. Ironically, it is in the movie's quieter moments, such as when Polly points out the lunacy of his obsession with throw pillows, that the movie is at its funniest.

If anything is proven in Along Came Polly, it is that Stiller's comedy is not a one-man show. Since so much of his humor depends on him being placed in awkward situations, it may be that his character works better opposite someone who dislikes him or desires to see him fail. Stiller's comic gift is that so much laughter can be derived from his suffering. Polly doesn't make him suffer enough.