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The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard (R) *

Jeremy Piven leads his merry band of liquidators, from left, Ving Rhames, David Koechner and Kathryn Hahn. Photo: Paramount Vantage.
Jeremy Piven leads his merry band of liquidators, from left, Ving Rhames, David Koechner and Kathryn Hahn. Photo: Paramount Vantage.

By Rene Rodriguez, The Miami Herald

How can a movie as overstuffed with funny people as The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard be so listless and leaden? Maybe the timing just isn’t right for a comedy about car salesmen and their customers that takes the salesmen’s side.

Or maybe the culprit is the sheer ineptitude of director Neal Brennan, a veteran of TV’s Chappelle’s Show in his feature-film debut. Brennan rarely frames his shots in a way that allows us to watch the members of his large ensemble cast bounce off one another, and he has instructed his cinematographer, Daryn Okada, to go for a grimy, dark, dull look, making the movie seem as if it were shot through a dirty sock. This is one of the ugliest films ever released by a Hollywood studio.

One factor that definitely weighs heavily against The Goods is the casting of Jeremy Piven in the lead role of Don Ready, the leader of a merry band of liquidators hired by a dealership owner (James Brolin) to help him sell off every vehicle on the lot within three days so he doesn’t default on his lease.

Piven can be effective in supporting roles: He was terrific as one of the panicked bachelor-party guests in the dark comedy Very Bad Things, and he’s won three Emmys and a Golden Glove for his role as hotshot Hollywood agent Ari Gold on HBO’s Entourage.

But Piven flails badly as the center of The Goods, lacking the charisma or comedic verve necessary to anchor an ensemble: His co-stars constantly show him up. Piven gets an early scene, in which Ready convinces a flight attendant to allow him to smoke on a plane, that’s supposed to win us over with the character’s slick patter and ability to snake charm anybody, anywhere, anytime.

Instead, the scene makes you wish Will Ferrell were playing the part. Ferrell was one of the producers of The Goods, and he also has a small, unbilled role. The movie is packed with energetic comedians, including Arrested Development’s Tony Hale as an ineffectual salesman, The Office’s Ed Helms as the member of a man-boy band, Craig Robinson as a recalcitrant disc jockey (“Nobody tells DJ Request what to do!”), and The Daily Show’s Rob Riggle as a 10-year-old who has aged prematurely and appears to be 40.

They’re all game and occasionally even score a laugh or two. But most of The Goods just sits there, a lumpen load of dullness. If you’re looking for a funny movie about car salesmen, rent 1980’s Used Cars, a politically incorrect and hilarious comedy about the rivalry between two car dealerships that lampoons the industry’s anything-for-a-sale huckster tactics.

The Goods wants you to love its characters, so they’re never duplicitous or manipulative. They’re honest salesmen. Where’s the funny in that?

Cast: Jeremy Piven, Ving Rhames, James Brolin, David Koechner, Kathryn Hahn, Ed Helms, Jordana Spiro, Tony Hale, Ken Jeong, Rob Riggle, Charles Napier, Craig Robinson, Will Ferrell.

Director: Neal Brennan.

Screenwriters: Andy Stock, Rick Stempson.

Producers: Will Ferrell, Chris Henchy, Adam McKay.

A Paramount Vantage release. Running time: 90 minutes. Vulgar language, sexual situations, drug use, adult themes. Playing at area theaters.