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Forget 'Silverman'; this movie's not worth saving

If tacky and tasteless define your comedic preferences, Saving Silverman has oodles of saving graces. For other folks, only the arduous efforts of two actors keep the film from being a total loss.

By STEVE PERSALL, Times Film Critic

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 8, 2001


Black is a garrulous neo-Belushi; unkempt, overweight, with a schemer's glint in his eyes and a rock 'n' roll soul. Catch his supporting roles in High Fidelity and Jesus' Son, or his hilarious HBO send-up of garage bands, Tenacious D, to see the difference one maniac can make.

Zahn is more Zen, in a Springer-guest sort of way, with a slow drawl and slower thinking behind it, blissfully ignorant of rare times when his characters' minds catch up to what's happening around them. See Happy, Texas, SubUrbia or That Thing You Do! to see what he does.

These two scene stealers don't have many good scenes to steal in Saving Silverman, an ugly-mannered, just plain ugly attempt at comedy from director Dennis Dugan, a specialist in wretched humor. Dugan is the mastermind behind Big Daddy, Beverly Hills Ninja and TV's unlamented Shasta McNasty, to give you an idea of his limitations.

The Silverman to be saved is Darren Silverman (Jason Biggs, Loser), a lunkhead allowing a lawyer vixen named Judith (Amanda Peet) to run his life. What she sees in Darren, other than his passive agreement to be degraded, is a mystery. Darren calls bingo at a nursing home for a living, is an alibi for a naked senior's butt gag, and hangs out with his buddies in a Neil Diamond tribute band.

J.D. (Black) and Wayne (Zahn) are goons deluded into thinking they're cool, annoying but somewhat lovable, if only for the actors' verve in playing them. They would make fine supporting roles in a knockabout comedy, but Dugan and the script keep them at center stage and their lunacy becomes exhausting.

Judith demands that Darren dump his pals or else she's leaving. Darren appears ready to give in, so Wayne and J.D. begin plotting dumb ways to break up the couple. One plan involves Darren's high school crush, Sandy (Amanda Detmer), who is days away from taking her final vows as a nun. Another is aided by the boys' former football coach (R. Lee Ermey), culminating in cheap shots about closeted homosexuality.

Saving Silverman plods through these mini-farces with a mean spirit and no credible motivation to justify it. Much of the movie seems made up on the spot. To describe the effect as "improvisation" would suggest dexterity that isn't there.

The script continually sets up characters to take falls -- from moving vehicles, out windows and doors, down stairs and off bridges. Electrocution is a common theme, with shocks occurring to nipples, a derriere and a groin. Gross-out gags include Sandy's circus-sideshow family and Darren's butt-cheek implants.

Biggs is accustomed to such indignities after his pastry affair in American Pie. He appears poised to become the next big thing that wasn't. Peet is appealing, although her role is based solely on bile and humiliation. Ermey is gung-ho in spoofing his Full Metal Jacket persona, looking uncomfortably foolish. The movie is straining to be hip when Neil Diamond shows up, turning his lyrics into helpful dialogue.

Then there are Zahn and Black, and bless them for being here. Saving Silverman would be a total loss without their frantic attempts to salvage a toxic screenplay. They're having a good time, but it's a chore. There's no fun stealing a movie when everybody else simply hands it to you.

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Saving Silverman

  • Grade: D
  • Director: Dennis Dugan
  • Cast: Jason Biggs, Amanda Peet, Jack Black, Steve Zahn, R. Lee Ermey, Neil Diamond
  • Screenplay: Hank Nelken, Greg DePaul
  • Rating: PG-13; sexual situations, violence, profanity, crude humor
  • Running time: 92 min.

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