How strange it is to think that a comedy isn't brash enough or absurd enough or funny enough (okay, that one's not so strange), but the truth about The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard is that, while it is brash and absurd and funny in fits and starts, it also seems to lose its nerve as it goes on, running low on laughing gas and coasting to a stop or whatever it is that auto-minded metaphors for auto-minded comedies do.
A wheeler and dealer even in grade school, the now-grown Don Ready (Jeremy Piven) sells cars like nobody's business when somebody's business is in trouble, and that's just the predicament that Ben Selleck (James Brolin) finds himself in. Ready's entourage includes the likes of Ving Rhames, Kathryn Hahn and David Koechner; I'll leave you to guess which of the three is the willful slut. Selleck's staff includes Ken Jeong, Tony Hale and Charles Napier; I'll leave you to determine which of those three suffers most at the racist outbursts of another (hint: not Hale).
Brolin's character has the hots for Koechner's (you read that right), Hahn has her heart set on bedding Selleck's overgrown son (Rob Riggle, playing a ten-year-old with a five-o-clock shadow), and the heart-breaking Ready is trying all his tricks on Selleck's daughter (Jordana Spiro). Did I mention that her fiance and therefore the competition is played by Ed Helms in all his self-absorbed dweeb glory? That man has one note, but he sure plays it well.
One almost wants to say the same for the rest of the cast. Hahn vamps the aggressive sexpot routine that practically stole last summer's Step Brothers away from its own leads, Napier convinces with a short fuse and long-standing habits of the days "when coloreds were coloreds," and Craig Robinson pops up here and there as a DJ that strictly refuses to play requests, and yet, while the actors are funny, the characters go nowhere. When Hahn insists that she's not above humping a ten-year-old boy, well, that's an odd bar to rise lower to, but it's a punchline that never comes, with character after character rendered mere set-up without payoff, each stocked full of quirky characteristics and given maybe one scene to shine if they're lucky.
In the middle of it all stands Piven's proudly brazen salesman, himself hocking every car he can while falling victim to the formulaic dilemmas of a tragic past, a commitment-less future and a love in the hands of the enemy, and although director Neal Brennan ("Chappelle's Show") and writers Andy Stock and Rick Stempson do wink at indulging in such obvious tropes, they never quite subvert them, instead succumbing profanely to a well-worn path of redemption and decreasingly funny results. And Piven? He does the cock-of-the-walk thing that served him well on the small screen in recent years while doing the fall-of-the-proud number that has served Will Ferrell and Danny McBride so well so far on the big screen, and he often enough gives off enough sheer chutzpah that it's a shame that the film doesn't have more to show for itself or even just for him.
Don't get me wrong -- The Goods has its moments, its zingers, its unsurprising-but-suitable cameos, but they all seem to fall farther and further between as things wind down. I'd usually be willing to relegate such an adequate comedy to 'catch it on cable' status, but truth be told, they'll likely excise the best parts. Oh, how much easier this might've been to recommend if it had only lived harder, sold harder, or pushed harder than it does...
It's funny: when it comes to a crew that does nothing but sell cars, you'd think that a lot would be the easiest thing to ask for.