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The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard

Comedy Stuck in Neutral

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars.

The Goods was co-produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay -- the guys behind Talladega Nights and Step Brothers, in case you missed the trailers -- so it claims enough of a pedigree to have attracted a gifted cast, including Jeremy Piven, Ving Rhames and Anchorman’s David Koechner.

Neal Brennan, co-creator of “Chappelle’s Show", agreed to direct. Ed Helms, of NBC’s “The Office", gamely pokes fun at himself as a Backstreet Boys idolater who dreams of leading his own “man band". And Ferrell, who rarely passes up a chance to pal around with his buddies, appears in a brief but hilarious cameo as a car salesman plunging to his death in a skydiving stunt gone wrong.

That sequence looms large because, at roughly three minutes, it represents the movie’s longest stretch of sustained inspiration. It’s agreeably absurd and, I suspect, wholly improvised as so many of Ferrell’s cameos are, but it’s enough to underscore the shortcomings of Andy Stock and Rick Stempson’s oddly rhythmless screenplay.

Where’s the imagination? Consider this drop-dead exchange between Babs, a lusty saleswoman played by the lovely Kathryn Hahn, and a male customer: She tells him she’s not going to use sex to sell him a car. Price, he says, is his only concern. She tells him of her desire for women, particularly in schoolgirl outfits. He buys the car.

Is this funny? In comedy, it helps to have a twist, a pull-the rug-out surprise you can’t see coming from far, far away. The Goods has a modest supply of these, just not enough. Some of the best lines fall to Piven, who plays a slightly less caustic version of Ari Gold, his ruthless, trash-talking talent agent from HBO’s “Entourage", and Rhames, as a road-weary salesman who hasn’t been home in more than a year and feels fairly certain he left the front door open.

Together, they tour America moving cars for down-on-their-luck dealers -- in this case, Ben Selleck (James Brolin), whose Temecula lot is gathering dust as the Fourth of July weekend approaches. That they save him from bankruptcy is hardly a spoiler -- the movie is essentially a lowbrow gag reel, with the makings of a story tossed in for good measure, and a few of those gags actually do deliver.

Too often, though, The Goods settles for easy jokes with obvious payoffs, as when DeeJay Request (Craig Robinson, also of “The Office”) refuses to take requests -- not once, but four times. It’s good for a chuckle the first time around; by the fourth, it reeks of desperation, and there’s nothing funny about that.