For me, the path to movie criticism began at the Boston Phoenix newspaper where I sold advertising space to transsexual prostitutes. These entrepreneurs of pleasure were not my only customers, of course, just the ones I remember most vividly. The year was 1979. Dreaming of glory in the world of big city alternative journalism, I had applied for a job at the Phoenix and, to my surprise, immediately been granted an interview with its second in command.
As it turned out, however, he wasn’t the weekly’s editor but rather its sales director, an individual whom I would come to learn was legendary for his boiler room tactics, tyrannical management style and natural gift for psychological manipulation. I had woken that morning with fantasies of becoming the next Hunter Thompson or Tom Wolfe. I went to bed the Phoenix’s new classified advertising sales manager.
At the time the paper was well known – and financially fueled, to a significant degree – by its infamous classifieds section. Sure, we sold help wanted ads and ads for rental apartments. What distinguished our listings though were our “personal ads,” barely disguised offerings for sexual services of every variety imaginable, along with a good many it had never occurred to me to imagine. When I wasn’t expecting the police to storm the place, I frequently spent my time wondering what my mother would think about her former altar boy earning a living as a print outlet pimp for street walking shemales.
To say the least, my three years there were a learning experience. One of the things about which I learned a great deal is the camaraderie that develops when a group of strangers are thrown together in a high pressure sales environment. Eventually I would move on to take a job as marketing director at the Vanguard Press, Burlington, Vermont’s dear departed alternative weekly and, through a fluke, get a shot at writing its movie reviews as well. Which is the long way around explaining why I have a special fondness for films about the breed of people who sell for a living, movies like “Glengarry Glen Ross,” “Boiler Room,” “Tin Men,” and, now, “The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard.”
The first release from the production company formed by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay (“Anchorman,” “Talladega Nights”) and the feature debut of Chappelle Show writer/director Neal Brennan, “The Goods” stars Jeremy Piven as super salesman for hire Don Ready. When he’s not enjoying breakfast in a strip club or inciting an orgy at 50,000 feet in a passenger jet, Ready sells cars. He leads a team of mercenaries which specializes in saving dealerships on the brink by staging blow-out sales that are a twisted cross between a three-ring circus and a revival meeting.
His crew consists of Brent (David Koechner), Jibby (Ving Rhames), and Babs (Kathryn Hahn) and, in tried and true “Anchorman” tradition, it’s beyond motley; it’s lewd, crude, rude and politically incorrect with a vengeance. All four leads are a laugh and a half but Hahn’s performance has breakout written all over it. Her Babs isn’t merely one of the guys. She’s twice the predator, twice the partier, twice the pervert any of her coworkers would ever purport to be.
Case in point: James Brolin costars in the role of Ben Selleck, owner of the ailing Selleck Motors, a closeted husband who immediately hits on Brent, the father of Peter (Rob Riggle). Peter is a ten-year-old with the body of a strapping adult as the result of a hyperactive pituitary gland. One of the picture’s most tasteless and hilarious running bits involves Babs’ carefully calculated scheme to seduce the overgrown tyke.
Will Ready and company unload all 200-plus used cars on Selleck’s Temecula, California lot over the course of a 4th of July weekend and save the day? Will the sales machine seal the deal with his client’s daughter (Jordana Spiro)? Will Bo Bice’s brother Eric show up to perform and draw massive crowds of potential customers? Are mutton chops a good look for Ferrell (He’s a riot in a series of cameos)?
These and many more of life’s even less important questions are answered in the course of “The Goods’” gag-plastered, variously surreal, and deliriously dumb ninety minutes. The movie doesn’t even try to break new ground–it’s shot entirely on location in familiar Ferrell-McKay territory. But, speaking of questions, ask yourself this: In the waning days of a movie season dominated by robots, attic-dwelling aliens and Hasbro action figures, is there any place you’d really rather be?