Along Came Polly

on January 16, 2004 by Michael Tunison
It's hard for a comedy to go too far wrong when it devotes much of its running time to humiliating Ben Stiller--though "Along Came Polly" demonstrates that this proven shtick doesn't make for an automatic slam-dunk either. While Stiller's latest film embarrasses, befuddles and emotionally tortures the star every bit as much as the hits "There's Something About Mary" and "Meet the Parents" did, the results simply aren't as fresh or funny this time around. Even the appealing teaming of Stiller and Jennifer Aniston of TV's "Friends" can't raise the formulaic "Polly" above the level of the average "American Pie"-era gross-out fest.

Stiller plays Reuben Feffer, an overcautious insurance company risk analyst whose carefully planned out, safety-conscious life crumbles when his bride (Debra Messing from TV's "Will & Grace") ends up in bed with a French nudist scuba instructor ("The Birdcage's" Hank Azaria) on the first day of their honeymoon. Enter Polly (Aniston), a world-traveling, commitment-phobic free spirit who seems tailor-made to shake up the devastated Reuben's too-rigid existence.

A little too tailor-made, it turns out, since the super-calculated nature of Reuben and Polly's "opposites attract" relationship and Reuben's resulting character arc rarely leaves room for doubt as to where the artificial-feeling plot is going. Writer-director John Hamburg (who co-penned the Stiller vehicles "Meet the Parents" and "Zoolander" after making his directorial debut with the indie comedy "Safe Men") might have done better by practicing what his script preaches and taking a few more risks in the storytelling.

That said, Stiller is in his usual hilarious form in the better gag sequences, most of which are built on exposing the fussy, hygiene-obsessed Reuben to the nastiest possible toilet/germ/personal contact situations. Equally effective is the terrific supporting cast, which includes veteran show-stealer Philip Seymour Hoffman ("Cold Mountain") as Reuben's former-teen-star best friend and Alec Baldwin ("Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat") as the hero's crude boss. Starring Ben Stiller, Jennifer Aniston, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Debra Messing, Hank Azaria, Bryan Brown and Alec Baldwin. Directed and written by John Hamburg. Produced by Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher. A Universal release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for sexual content, language, crude humor and some drug references. Running time: 90 min

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