‘The Goods’

In order to discuss the new comedy The Goods: Live Hard. Sell Hard, I find I have to first spend a little time discussing the HBO comedy series Entourage.

Ever seen it? If anyone had told me the premise of the show before I saw it, I would have held my nose. A rich, young pretty-boy movie star and his friends cruise around L.A. partying, fooling around with gorgeous women, eating gourmet food and now and then weighing career options? Sure. I’ll tune in as soon I’ve finished cleaning the bathroom and paying the cable bill.

But as it turns out, it’s a pretty good guilty pleasure of a show. The actors have a male-bonding rapport that’s funny and even rather sweet, and the celebrity cameos are often amusing.

That said, the show would be nothing without the human whirlwind that is Jeremy Piven.

Piven has been knocking around movies and TV since the ‘80s as a reliable comic character actor, but it’s the role of talent agent Ari Gold that has made him a star. Ari is constantly in motion, scrambling here and there to keep his clients happy and maintain his own advantage. He’s constantly talking, too, buttering up those above him and intolerably insulting those below in the same emphatic, declarative voice, edged with controlled impatience and punctuated by the occasional angry bellow.

His bustling, jabbering manner is like a survival skill in the showbiz jungle; he displays his energy and intelligence and verbal confidence like a bird displaying its plumage or a tiger displaying its fangs. Neither Ari’s flattery nor his abuse is taken personally by those around him; that’s what makes Piven so funny in the role. What makes it more than an easy Hollywood caricature is that the actor also lets you see Ari’s underlying conscience, his capacity for affection, and his surprisingly fierce, if selectively applied, sense of integrity.

Piven plays the lead in The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard. Indeed, it’s the title role: Don “The Goods” Ready, an itinerant car salesman who, with his ragtag team of car-lot carpetbaggers (David Koechner, Ving Rhames, Kathryn Hahn), descends upon a past-its-prime dealership in Temecula, California for a Fourth-of-July weekend sale designed to save the owner (James Brolin) from the clutches of his competitors (Alan Thicke and Ed Helms).

There’s not much to say about this shapeless, shameless, absolutely-anything-whatsoever-for-a-laugh farce, except that it has a touching faith in the entertainment value of vulgarity. There are two scenes set at strip clubs, and these two scenes are largely where the exposition gets delivered; they seem oddly less raunchy and foul-mouthed than the rest of the movie.

There are quite a few talented and likable performers in the cast, but Piven is center stage here, and he sticks with what works. Don Ready is pretty much Ari Gold of Entourage in shabbier clothes, with a worse haircut. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Piven delivers his lines exactly the same way, and they give the same pleasure, the pleasure of being “worked” by a con artist who truly is an artist.

Watching The Goods, some may recall a much better movie, the splendidly silly and vulgar Robert Zemeckis comedy Used Cars. Filmed in Mesa, this 1979 release pitted two dealerships against each other, both dishonest, but one run by likable hustlers (led by Kurt Russell) and the other by uncouth brutes (led by Jack Warden).

The plot isn’t the same as that of The Goods, but the admiring fondness for the art of slinging the bull is. Piven would have been great in the film.

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