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Blu-Ray Review: Unfunny ‘Peep World’ Wastes Spectacular Comedic Cast

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CHICAGO – “Peep World” plays like the pilot for a failed sitcom that will never end. The running time clocks in at a mere 79 minutes, but the ordeal feels so much longer. One can imagine the canned laughter on TV Land appreciating these gags, which are embarrassingly lame. It’s not long before the miserable, ashen-faced characters begin to mirror the audience.

What’s astounding is the sheer level of comedic talent that has somehow been assembled for this mess. Rainn Wilson, Sarah Silverman, Judy Greer, Ben Schwartz and Stephen Tobolowsky have far better things to do than waste time with this dreck. Were they really dying to work with director Barry W. Blaustein, whose last comedy was 2005’s offensive Special Olympics satire, “The Ringer”? Or were they swayed by the utterly humorless script by Peter Himmelstein, best known for doing the title design in “Slums of Beverly Hills”?

HollywoodChicago.com Blu-Ray Rating: 1.5/5.0
Blu-Ray Rating: 1.5/5.0

The premise manages to rip-off several clichés at once. A young hotshot writer, Nathan (played by Ben Schwartz), gains fame by penning a book that dishes the dirt on his dysfunctional family. The only character he chooses to idealize is that of his wealthy, distant and utterly loathsome father, Henry (Ron Rifkin), perhaps because he’s seeking the old coot’s approval. As the disgruntled family members plan to gather for Henry’s 70th birthday dinner, tensions run high, particularly since many of Nathan’s claims about his older siblings are distressingly true. Father-to-be Jack (Michael C. Hall) suffers from a porn addiction, Joel (Wilson) has become the needy black sheep of the clan, and Cheri (Silverman) sports intensely narcissistic characteristics worthy of—well, Sarah Silverman. These two-dimensional caricatures seem to be modeled after the beloved ensemble in Mitchell Hurwitz’s brilliant, criminally short-lived series, “Arrested Development.” One major element that made the show so addictive was the inherent lovability the characters, regardless of their selfishness or spite. No one in “Peep World” is the least bit likable, save for Joel’s improbable girlfriend, Mary (Taraji P. Henson), who manages to maintain her pluck in the midst of the increasingly grim proceedings.

Ben Schwartz, Michael C. Hall, Lesley Ann Warren, Alicia Witt, Stephen Tobolowsky, Sarah Silverman and Rainn Wilson star in Barry W. Blaustein’s Peep World.
Ben Schwartz, Michael C. Hall, Lesley Ann Warren, Alicia Witt, Stephen Tobolowsky, Sarah Silverman and Rainn Wilson star in Barry W. Blaustein’s Peep World.
Photo credit: IFC Films

Though the climactic dinner is the point in which comic fireworks are intended to explode, they quickly fizzle just like the rest of the picture. The father delivers a hateful speech about the ungratefulness of his children, who mainly just sit around and grimace. This isn’t comedy, it’s indigestion. As Henry’s long-suffering ex-wife, Lesley Ann Warren is given absolutely nothing to do except squirm over the fact that her ex-husband is with a much younger woman. Hall and Wilson attempt to copy the chemistry between Jason Bateman and Tony Hale in “Arrested Development,” but the flimsy writing fails them at every turn. Silverman is a master of the withering observation, and her throwaway quips are the only lines in the picture worth remembering. When she spots her mother painting a still life, the wounded yet still pompous egotist asks, “Is that supposed to be THAT?”

Peep World was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on July 19, 2011.
Peep World was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on July 19, 2011.
Photo credit: IFC Films

That line may not sound like much, but it’s actually the funniest line in the picture, especially when contrasted with the jokes given to Tobolowsky, an indispensable funnyman cast as Ephraim, a Tobolowsky-esque creep secretly in love with Cheri. Their scenes together milk none of the comedic potential in this scenario, opting instead to have the proudly Jewish Ephraim constantly remind the viewer that he’s a “Jew for Jesus.” When Cheri says that she feels betrayed by her brother, Ephraim responds, “Christ was betrayed too.” Are you laughing yet?
 
Lewis Black’s pointless narration adds nothing to the film except even more bad punch-lines. He informs the viewer that Nathan treats his publicist (Kate Mara) condescendingly because he heard that “Norman Mailer did it.” The picture is so poorly structured and thinly developed that the audience never gets a sense of why Nathan decided to humiliate his family in order to garner recognition and success. His smug indifference makes him the most detestable character of all, though the filmmakers have an odd way of punishing him. Instead of exploring the character’s motives, Himmelstein decides to give him a sexual dysfunction. Nathan’s doctor requires him to take medication that causes a rather throbbing side effect. This leads to an excruciating book signing where Nathan attempts to read passages from his book while wincing and writhing in agony. Instead of pacing the scene to build comic momentum, Blaustein just lets it sit on the screen until it’s mercifully over. The moment perfectly encapsulates the grand flaw of this wrongheaded production: for all the humiliation that the audience is asked to endure, the film offers very little humor in return.
 
“Peep World” is presented in 1080p High Definition (with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio), and includes four measly minutes of deleted scenes that don’t elicit a single audible expulsion of amusement. Nope, not even a peep.

‘Peep World’ is released by IFC Films and stars Ben Schwartz, Michael C. Hall, Sarah Silverman, Rainn Wilson, Judy Greer, Taraji P. Henson, Kate Mara, Ron Rifkin, Stephen Tobolowsky, Lesley Ann Warren and Lewis Black. It was written by Peter Himmelstein and directed by Barry W. Blaustein. It was released on July 19, 2011. It is not rated.

HollywoodChicago.com staff writer Matt Fagerholm

By MATT FAGERHOLM
Staff Writer
HollywoodChicago.com
matt@hollywoodchicago.com

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