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'SILVERMAN' SAVES LAUGHS, BRAINS.

Byline: Bob Strauss Film Critic

A lot of things that really aren't funny - kidnapping, emotional manipulation, repressed sexual identity, Neil Diamond - get played for laughs in Hollywood's latest crude comedy, ``Saving Silverman.''

No surprise, then, that few yuks are generated. Despite a game and likable cast, this exercise in larksome dehumanization is too gamey to like.

The premise, or at least the way it's been worked out by writers Greg DePaul and Hank Nelken and director Dennis Dugan, pretty much doomed the film from the start. Basically, the person the movie sets up as the antagonist is fundamentally right and the heroes are too dumb to realize it.

Three high school buddies are still best friends now that they're young adult losers. Retirement-home employee Darren Silverman (``American Pie's'' Jason Biggs), inept exterminator Wayne (the always enjoyably off-center Steve Zahn) and J.D. (``High Fidelity's'' scene-stealing Jack Black) still hang together since they can't get dates and, when they really want to have fun, they perform in a Neil Diamond cover band.

Then the perpetually lovesick Darren meets Judith (``Whipped's'' Amanda Peet, at it again), an ice queen psychiatrist whose minuscule handouts of affection soon have him warming leg wax and receiving painful gluteal implants for her pleasure. Oh, and she doesn't want him hanging around with his old slobby friends anymore - which, no matter how evil Judith is made out to be, is probably the best thing anyone's ever done on Darren's behalf.

Of course, Wayne and J.D. don't see it that way. Rather than allow Darren to marry a woman he'll be miserable with, the two nitwits kidnap Judith and keep her chained up in their garage. The idea, if you can call it that, is to encourage the ``abandoned'' Darren to drown his sorrows in sweet Sandy (Amanda Detmer), his high school crush who has just come back to town. She's come back to become a nun but, hey, a plan's a plan.

What little tension the story musters has to do with just how long it will take Judith, who possesses a brain, to outsmart her captors, who between them do not.

R. Lee Ermey, the frightening drill sergeant from Stanley Kubrick's ``Full Metal Jacket,'' appears as a helpfully homicidal football coach who can be relied upon to perform any vulgar task the rest of the cast declines to commit. Diamond, playing himself, does some singing.

Director Dugan has a resume of ``Problem Child'' and Adam Sandler films. Logically, then, it remains unclear, after seeing ``Saving Silverman,'' who really needs saving here.

My best guess? The audience.

``SAVING SILVERMAN''

(Rated PG-13: nudity, language, mild violence)

The stars: Steve Zahn, Jack Black, Jason Biggs, Amanda Peet, Amanda Detmer, R. Lee Ermey, Neil Diamond.

Behind the scenes: Directed by Dennis Dugan. Written by Greg DePaul and Hank Nelken. Produced by Neal H. Moritz. Released by Columbia Pictures.

Running time: One hour, 31 minutes.

Playing: Citywide.

Our rating: Two stars

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

J.D. (Jack Black, center) and Wayne (Steve Zahn) arm-wrestle Judith (Amanda Peet) for a friend's attention in ``Saving Silverman.''
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Title Annotation:L.A. Life
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Movie Review
Date:Feb 9, 2001
Words:515
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