Despite what the title suggests, it’s actually the audience that needs rescuing at “Saving Silverman.” The comedy–about two wild and crazy dudes, J.D. and Wayne (Jack Black and Steve Zahn), who try to break up a relationship between their buddy Darren (Jason Biggs) and Judith (Amanda Peet), a dominating broad who threatens their friendship–is, by any objective standard, a perfectly wretched movie. It’s unrelievedly coarse and vulgar, with a succession of jokes involving boobs, balls, flatulence and sexual preferences that would be more at home at a Saturday night frat-boy kegger than on the big screen. All of its characters–not only those mentioned above but also Sandy (Amanda Detmer), the sweet young novice with whom Darren was once enraptured in high school, and Coach (R. Lee Ermey), a violence-prone wacko who eggs on the boys to deal with Judith in the most definitive fashion–are drawn so crudely that Jed Clampett and his clan look realistic and well-rounded by comparison. The slapstick is clumsy and repetitive. The picture uses religion crassly, as the excuse for cheap laughs. And its attitude toward women is antediluvian: the only two on view are the super-bitch Judith and the simpering, ultra-naive Sandy. “Saving Silverman” makes a picture like “Road Trip” look positively subtle and refined.
Still, it’s conceivable that as terrible as it is, the picture may attract a sizable audience. To be sure, it won’t be palatable to anyone with a mental age above twelve, but lots of guys (and some females) up to thirty or so fit comfortably into that category. Put another way, those who enjoyed the collection of gross-out gags and tasteless innuendoes paraded in “Scary Movie” might also embrace “Silverman.” Especially if they come to the feature with a bit of a buzz on already, they might easily be taken by Black and Zahn, who give their shtick all the energy they can muster. Black, after all, possesses some of the deadpan oddness that Bill Murray radiated in his early days, and Zahn has the dumb-as-a-post-but-always-trying bit down pat; with solid material each can be extremely funny. In this instance, though, playing The Two Stooges, they’re forced to repeat their material so relentlessly that only the most tolerant (or addled) viewer will be willing to stick with them to the end. (It’s no accident that Moe, Larry and Curly worked best in shorts.) But perhaps there will be enough such viewers to make the flick a hit. Then there are the girls, whose debasement some misguided souls might find amusing. Peet is good to look at even when shrieking her way through a role as here, and Detmer remains a pert, likable presence although she’s variously required to dither like a blonde Jennifer Tilly and wail like a modern-day Lucy Ricardo; needless to say, neither’s abilities are well used, but their mere appearance (with Detmer sometimes in very revealing garb and Peet repeatedly chained to a chair) may be sufficient for some eyes. Ermey, meanwhile, shows himself willing to undergo any indignity (including squatting in the grass in the absence of a bathroom and smooching Black) in search of a paycheck. The movie’s an equal-opportunity offender, since it heaps humiliation on men and women pretty indiscrimately; and there are those who appreciate that kind of stuff.
There is, however, one element that makes the success of the picture unlikely. That’s the title character himself, who’s presented as such a dim, doltish fellow that it’s impossible to work up any sympathy for his friends’ attempts to save him from Judith’s grasp. Biggs showed a modicum of charm in “American Pie” and even more in Amy Heckerling’s sadly underrated “Loser,” but here he completely lacks that quality: in his hands Darren is a pathetic jerk, pure and simple, and his simpering tribulations are more likely to render him annoying than endearing even to the most accommodating viewers. A running gag about the three buddies’ idolization of Neil Diamond (who makes several appearances in the picture) is also likely to make audiences wince.
So even those inclined to embrace the sort of non-stop rudeness and crudeness that “Saving Silverman” represents may tune out as Darren’s stupidity persists. On the other hand, one can never underestimate the lack of taste among today’s moviegoers. The fate of this awful farce will test just how low they’re willing to sink for a laugh.