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ALONG CAME POLLY (article first published : 2004-04-13)

It's all rather achingly familiar as romantic comedies go, teetering somewhere between the guffaws and gross-outs of the Farrelly Brothers' hits and the wisecracks and sharper wit of a Neil Simon. Yet for all the cribbed jokes, most of them unashamedly slapstick and/or lavatorial, Along Came Polly, teaming amiable actors Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston, is cheerful enough to make for a fun, if quickly forgettable, matinee choice.

It's a case of opposites attracting - Stiller playing Reuben, an insurance risks assessor and compulsive obsessive with irritable bowel syndrome; Aniston cast as the titular Polly, a live-for-today, non-commital waitress with a passion for sexy salsa dancing and spicy foods. Former primary school mates, the two meet by accident after Reuben, in an amusing opening sequence, marries and loses his wife (Will and Grace star Debra Messing) on his honeymoon.

Reuben unties the marital knot when he catches wifey making whoopie with a muscled but ickily groovy, scuba-diving instructor, played delightfully by Hank Azaria with a French accent.

When Reuben meets Polly, just about everything that can go wrong, does goes wrong, the comic situations revolving around toilet mishaps, restaurant embarrassments and even Polly's blind pet ferret. And while there are some early laugh-out-loud moments, the plot is too quick to shift into automatic and take the course of all Hollywood romantic comedies, as Reuben and Polly slowly fall for each other, find reason to part and, just as one of them is about to leave the city forever, reconsider their actions and attempt to make up.

And once this path is followed, there are no surprises.

This predictability is the big downfall of a film which has been penned and directed by John Hamburg, who also co-wrote the Stiller successes Zoolander and Meet the Parents, the latter of which is soon to spawn a sequel.

Along Came Polly, after proving very popular in America, also features cameo appearances by Alec Baldwin as an obnoxious executive who patronises Reuben and Aussie actor Bryan Brown as a daredevil thrill-seeker applying for insurance and being assessed for cover by the increasingly harassed Reuben.

And the unfailingly dependable Philip Seymour Hoffman is also here, playing Reuben's slobbish pal, a former child actor with delusions of grandeur, who directs a community theatre production of Jesus Christ Superstar - and attempts to hog the limelight by playing both Jesus and Judas.

Both Stiller and Aniston, while never stretching their talents, are their usual likeable selves in a film which gets a rating of 6/10. - Billy Suter




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