The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard, the feature directorial debut of Chappelle’s Show co-creator Neal Brennan, casts Jeremy Piven as the head of a traveling crew of used-car salespeople. Mercenaries of the trade, they travel from town to town helping dealers clear their lots, using whatever sleazy means they deem necessary to make a sale. Then they pack their bags and move on, leaving a lot of unsatisfied customers in their wake. By the film’s final scene, the plot has started to feel self-referential.
Piven leads an ensemble cast of funny people—David Koechner, Rob Riggle, and Tony Hale tip an iceberg that also includes Kristen Schaal, Ed Helms, and others—shuffling through a largely laugh-free wasteland of easy setups, easier punchlines, and endless repetition. (Even those amused by the first scene in which James Brolin’s car-lot patriarch puts the moves on Koechner will probably have tired of the joke by the fifth go-around.) Brennan opens the film on a promisingly timely note, with footage of Brolin’s declining business synched to Loretta Lynn’s despairing “May God Bless America Again.” But The Goods is really about Piven’s character leading a charge for a return to the old-fashioned values of lap dances, hard booze, and easy money. (It’s almost as if he spent his formative years rebelling against some kind of PCU.)
About Piven: When did it go wrong? When did the caustic character actor guaranteed to liven up even the dullest movie turn into a walking black hole of smarm from which no joy can escape? Piven’s frat-boy-with-suspicious-looking-hairline act is front and center here, which demands a lot of tolerance from the audience. But the script and Brennan’s lay-it-on-with-a-trowel approach to comedy is what ultimately kills the movie. Funny ideas bubble up from time to time—Helms’ boy-band-for-thirtysomethings Big Ups, Craig Robinson as a character named DJ Request who’s fiercely opposed to taking requests—only to disappear into a morass of stripper jokes and desperation. When producer Will Ferrell shows up for a cameo involving a skydiving accident, a Lincoln costume, and a sex toy, The Goods seems on the verge of redefining the phrase “anything for a laugh.” Or it would if there were any laughs involved.