When you know what actors are capable of, it can be hard to accept them in so-so material. In such movies as There's Something About Mary and Meet the Parents, Ben Stiller has mastered the fine art of hurt-me humiliation; the guy sure knows how to squirm. And on "Friends," Jennifer Aniston has perfected the loopy rhythms of screwball comedy, harking back to the great Jean Arthur. But in Along Came Polly, neither actor shows us anything new; and, at $8 a pop, we feel a little cheated. It's an opposites-attract comedy, Stiller as a control freak whose wife (Debra Messing) just ran off with the scuba instructor (Hank Azaria) on their St. Bart's honeymoon, Aniston as the slightly flaky free spirit he meets on the rebound. She waits tables for a living. He reads actuarial tables for a living. She has a ferret. He has irritable bowel syndrome. She's a Gentile. He's Jewish. Think Annie Hall, only with fart jokes.
And not just fart jokes. Writer/director John Hamburg, who co-scripted Meet the Parents and Zoolander, appears to have completed his course work toward a degree in scatology. And I would bemoan the fact that so many movies resort to potty humor nowadays if it hadn't been the only thing that got a real rise out of me in Along Came Polly. Actually, I liked the smaller roles -- Azaria as the most absurdly French-accented scuba diver since Jacques Cousteau, Alec Baldwin as a hands-on boss who likes to conduct business in the men's room and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Stiller's unlikely best friend, a one-man demolition crew with questionable hygiene. ("I just sharted," he says at a party. Don't ask.) As for the leads, they seem game, but Hamburg doesn't push them very hard. Remember Bringing Up Baby? What's Up, Doc? Those movies knew how to do the nebbish/free spirit thing, and not a fart joke between them.