If you couldn't make it past the crushing crowds at your local megaplex to see the 'movie event' of February, "Hannibal", then you might have settled on the only other choice in terms of new releases this weekend, "Saving Silverman". Unlike the highly anticipated 'serial killer thriller' that has been ten years in the making, there isn't an ounce of Oscar-caliber talent or pretension to be found in "Saving Silverman". With low-brow humor in abundance, what you see is basically what you get-- a somewhat amusing 'dumb fun' comedy that milks its screwball story for every laugh it can.
The titular character is one Darren Silverman (Jason Biggs of "American Pie"), a nice guy who is both unable to relate to women socially and incredibly gullible. Fortunately, he has two good friends whom he has known since childhood, Wayne (Steve Zahn of "Happy, Texas") and J.D. (Jack Black of "High Fidelity"). In addition to their friendship, they are united in their adoration of singer Neil Diamond, and they spend their weekends busking by the waterfront as 'Diamonds in the Rough' with their extensive repertoire of the singer's hits.
However, everything changes when Darren gets a girlfriend named Judith (former model Amanda Peet, seen recently in "Whipped" and "Isn't She Great"). Given his naiveté, Darren is completely oblivious as to how he is being manipulated by his new girlfriend, as Judith is making all of his decisions for him, including whom he can and can't have as friends. As Judith brazenly declares, Darren is her 'puppet', and she is his 'puppet-master'. For Wayne and J.D., it's the last straw when Darren announces that he's going to be married to Judith in a week, and so they formulate a plan to save their friend from the clutches of a seemingly-unstoppable man-eater.
But because Wayne and J.D. are not the brightest of guys, and they decide to kidnap Judith and hook Darren up with his long-lost love from high school, Sandy (Amanda Detmer of "Final Destination"). To further exacerbate the situation, (a) Wayne and J.D. are terrible kidnappers, (b) Darren refuses to give up hope of being reunited with Judith, whom he mistakenly believes to be his 'one and only love', and (c) Sandy is about to become a nun. As you would expect, the ill-conceived plan doesn't unfold exactly the way they planned, leading to all sorts of absurd situations and assorted mayhem.
At first glance, "Saving Silverman" seems like every other gross-out comedy, with plenty of salacious material covering every imaginable form of low-brow humor. Thankfully, unlike most of its undistinguished brethren, "Saving Silverman" is actually funny, similar to how last year's "Road Trip" had some true comic gems underneath the otherwise juvenile humor. In addition to the usual parade of sex and toilet humor, the Hank Nelken and Greg DePaul-penned script throw its dim-witted protagonists into an increasingly-absurd set of circumstances, providing many of the film's unexpected laughs, such as Wayne and J.D.'s inept attempts at kidnapping, J.D. wearing a bird costume to disguise his identity from captive Judith, and singer Neil Diamond (playing himself) saving the day with a song.
The two key factors that save "Saving Silverman" would be the enthusiastic comic performances by Steve Zahn and Jack Black. Zahn has an excellent track record for playing dim-witted but lovable characters, such as his memorable turn as a convict-turned-beauty-pageant-consultant in "Happy, Texas", or his portrayal of Rosencrantz in the 2000 remake of "Hamlet". Jack Black, who was the most energetic person on the screen in "High Fidelity", steals the show as the dumber of Darren's friends. "Saving Silverman" is actually more enjoyable that it should be because of these two actors-- they are the hooks that reel the audience in.
Jason Biggs, on the other hand, does the same hapless klutz shtick that he has used for his last three films, and despite being the main character, is easily the least interesting one. Amanda Peet, who radiated charm and vivacity in "The Whole Nine Yards", is back in top form here after a less-than-stellar turn in "Whipped"-- at times, she seems to be enjoying herself a little too much vamping it up. Finally, R. Lee Ermey, a former drill sergeant who brought his intimidating screen presence and voice to films such as "Full Metal Jacket", parodies his tough-guy persona by playing a football coach who has some definite anger-management issues.
Despite my low expectations, I found myself pleasantly surprised by "Saving Silverman", due in large part to the absurd antics of Steve Zahn and Jack Black, who manage to grow on you. Though it may not be on the level of "Me, Myself, and Irene" or "There's Something About Mary", "Saving Silverman" manages to rise above the lesser entries in the gross-out comedy field (such as "American Pie" or "Outside Providence"), on account of some of the jokes and comic set pieces actually being funny.