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Saving Silverman

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One of the great paradoxes of the entertainment world is that artists who do remarkable, original work are often rewarded with roles in high-concept studio tripe unworthy of their talents. The phenomenon explains respected actors' continued presence in Jerry Bruckheimer productions, and it explains the casting of Jack Black and Steve Zahn in Saving Silverman, a film that's either a brilliant deconstruction of the homoeroticism, misogyny, and anti-intellectualism of lowbrow comedies, or one of the stupidest movies ever made. A level of barely latent sadomasochism and gender-role reversal not generally seen in Hollywood films outside of Johnny Guitar suggests the former, while an abundance of jokes revolving around crotch-and-buttocks-related punishments seems to indicate the latter. Black and Zahn star in Silverman as the boorish, underachieving best friends of hapless sad-sack Jason Biggs, a Neil Diamond-loving romantic whose quasi-romance with satanic head-shrinker Amanda Peet is so rushed and arbitrary that it doesn't even warrant the obligatory montage sequence. Understandably threatened by her Rasputin-like grip on Biggs, Black and Zahn abduct Peet while they attempt to hook up Biggs with his one true love (Amanda Detmer), a woman who, in keeping with the film's surreally exaggerated gender dynamics, is both a weightlifter and an aspiring nun. What follows seems constructed solely for the purpose of making the abduction, humiliation, and attempted murder of an assertive, career-minded woman not only acceptable but strangely moral, as Black and Zahn attempt to neutralize Peet without falling prey to her wily feminine charms. At the same time, the enormously talented, ridiculously overqualified Zahn and Black attack their roles with such unselfconscious abandon that the film never strays far from the realm of intentional self-parody. So, is Saving Silverman a brilliant satire of the Maxim mentality or insulting trash? It's up to audiences to decide, but any film that ends with a deep, soulful kiss between Black and Full Metal Jacket's R. Lee Ermey can't be all bad.