Royal Flush

Despite the overabundance of bathroom humor, 'Along Came Polly' is funnier than most comedies these days.

Along Came Polly is basically designed to be hated by critics.

Here are the stats: The first toilet scene occurs seven minutes into the film and features a good deal of farting as well as the sounds of a man (Alec Baldwin) urinating in loud spurts. It is six minutes after that when another man (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) claims to have "sharted," i.e. to have attempted to fart and, instead, to have released into his pants a small amount of feces. There is then a refreshing 12 minutes of feces-free fun until, finally, a man (Ben Stiller) defecates loudly with the release of much gas. He then discovers an absence of toilet paper, wipes himself with a family heirloom, and proceeds to flood the bathroom with befouled water from an overflowing toilet.

After that, Along Came Polly is divinely blessed with an absence of pooping, farting and peeing. "But," you must be thinking, "what about vomiting? Are we to have no vomiting in our film? How can this be?" Fear not: Forty-five minutes into the film, a man (Stiller again) is heard to retch violently into a toilet.

That about covers the bathroom sequences, and pretty much sinks the film's chances of getting the big thumbs up from your more family-oriented, and less poop-oriented, critics.

It also makes me wonder: Who thinks that diarrhea is funny? Wouldn't it be, I don't know, mostly people under the age of 13? And yet, this film is rated PG-13. It even received that rating, in part, for "crude humor." Hello! Crude humor is what the under-13 crowd loves! What is wrong with the MPAA?

Or, maybe the question is, what is wrong with Universal Studios? Why take a romantic comedy and fill it to the stinking brim with human waste products? It defies the logic of commercialism. Twelve-year-olds don't really go for grown-up love stories, and those older than 12 generally prefer their films feces-free.

It's all a bit of a shame because, when it's not engaging in colonic comedy, Along Came Polly is actually pretty funny. Did no one have enough faith in the actual jokes to allow them to exist without framing them in dung?

The film begins with Ben Stiller, as Reuben Feffer, getting married to his long-time sweetheart, Lisa Kramer (Debra Messing). Yes! Debra Messing, who makes Will and Grace not only unpleasant, but also unwatchable, finally gets her big break in poop-oriented comedy!

Sadly, all is not well with Lisa and Reuben, for when they travel to some tropical island (Aruba? Antigua? Barfpoobah?) for their honeymoon, Lisa is swept off her feet by local scuba expert Claude (Hank Azaria).

Hank Azaria is probably best known as Apu on The Simpsons. He also used to be married to Helen Hunt, and he used to be sort of your standard skinny/nerdy guy. Strangely, in Along Came Polly, he's built like Arnold Schwarzenegger. It's like somebody stuck Hank Azaria's head on a WWF Action Figure body and used the black arts to animate the chimera that resulted.

So, anyway, poor Reuben heads back to his home in New York, where he works as an uptight guy who needs to meet a free-wheeling lady so as to provide a plot for his life. And not just any plot: It has to be a plot we've seen a million times before.

Luckily for Reuben and the screenwriters, along comes Polly (Jennifer Aniston), who, like Reuben, does not seem to own any bras. However, unlike Reuben, she also does not wash her hands a hundred times a day or own a lot of throw pillows or defecate loudly and gassily whenever possible.

Instead, Polly is a free-spirit post-hippie type who likes to go salsa dancing and eat food that has fallen on the floor. This is perfect for Reuben, because he hates those things, but then he hates himself, so what the hell.

From here, all the standard uptight-guy-meets-crazy-zany-lady stuff happens in standard order. Which isn't such a bad thing; I'm not sure we need a constant flow of original material in our movie theaters. However, when your movie actually borrows a plot point from an old Friends episode, then maybe it's time to take that New Age course in accessing your inner creative energy.

Besides the fact that it's poop-riddled and utterly lacking in novelty, though, Along Came Polly is really not bad. Alec Baldwin, as Ben Stiller's boss, is funny in that way that only someone who was dumped by Kim Basinger and then put on a lot of weight can be funny.

And Hank Azaria is, as usual, a hoot. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, one of the great actors of our time, is pretty much wasted here, but he does capture something sad and funny in his portrayal of former child star Sandy Lyle. (Yes, they even stoop to using the "former child star" motif.)

The downside, acting-wise, is Ben Stiller. Stiller's old TV show was one of the best things ever on the box, but outside of sketch comedy, he's just not very compelling. He has no depth and only rarely presents the fullness of character that creates sympathy and believability.

Aniston is also surprisingly weak, and there's little or no chemistry between her and Stiller, unless by "chemistry," you mean the mingling of uric acids and organic waste products.

All this, though, only points to a problem in reviewing a film like Along Came Polly: Most of what stands out about it is how wretched it is, but in fact, most of the length of the film is not wretched. It's a lot funnier than most comedies you'll see (which is not saying much, but still ...) and it even has its moments of humanity. Sure, it's humanity on the order of ordure, but still, that's an important part of being human: the disgusting part.

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