Risk assessment: Polly needs a wisecrack

If I were an insurance risk assessment expert like Reuben Feffer (Ben Stiller), I could feed the positive and negative factors of a movie like Along Came Polly into a computer, hit "Enter" and have its potential spit out as a numerical value.

But I'm a film critic, so I'll list the pros and cons in a review and let you assess whether to risk the price of admission on seeing it, even though I generally wish I could spit out the whole movie.

What makes this one difficult is that it's up to you which column a huge determining factor goes into: body emissions. Many comedies rely on them for some of their biggest laughs– consider the campfire scene in Blazing Saddles– but you have to get down to some of Eddie Murphy's lowest comedies to find any that rely on bodily functions for nearly all their laughs.

Stiller pees, pukes, and poops his way through the role of "a nice, safe, conventional guy" with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Alec Baldwin farts– with a Jewish accent yet– as his boss and Philip Seymour Hoffman "sharts"– that's going to become a buzzword if the movie's more popular than it deserves to be– in his picture-stealing role as Sandy Lyle, Reuben's best friend.

Along Came Polly opens with Sandy as best man at Reuben's wedding to Lisa (Debra Messing), his dream girl. "I would insure this marriage any day of the week," Baldwin declares at the reception.

If they took him up on it, they wouldn't have to make a second premium payment. While they're honeymooning on St. Bart's, Lisa runs off with a naked scuba instructor (Hank Azaria with another of his funny accents).

Life as he knew it is over for Reuben– for the moment– but then along comes Polly. Sandy persuades Reuben to go to a party where he's recognized by Polly Prince (Jennifer Aniston), whom he hasn't seen since seventh grade. She eats spicy food, has no career, and moves a lot. She can't commit to anything but her pet, a blind ferret. (That doesn't fit her profile, but it sets up a few animal-bumping-into-things gags for those who need some higher-brow humor.)

The opposites somehow attract, and soon Reuben's in love again. He even takes salsa dancing lessons from Javier (Jsu Garcia), a gay instructor, to win Polly's heart. Just when things seem to be going well– except in Reuben's intestines– along comes Lisa. Yes, her fling is over, and she wants to resume married life with Reuben.

He uses risk assessment software instead of following his heart to decide who his mate should be, but a life lesson comes from an unexpected source to set the stage for the final chase.

A subplot has Reuben analyzing whether the company should insure Leland Van Lew (Bryan Brown), an "extreme sports nut" whose lifestyle is obviously more dangerous than those of fellow Australians Paul Hogan and Steve Irwin combined. (There was a boat ride off Nantucket...)

Sandy is remembered for playing bagpipes in a Brat Pack movie but hasn't done much since except screw up his own life and give Reuben bad advice so he can do the same. Hoffman's the funniest thing in the movie, but even he overstays his welcome in his climactic scene.

Aniston manages to create a character from the bundle of quirks in the script, but Stiller just does his same old Stiller thing, although he does it well.

John Hamburg, best known for writing Meet the Parents and Zoolander, shows no skill here at directing his own material. There's some terrible editing with unnecessary shots inserted to cover laughs when there's no reason for anyone to laugh.

It's unusual to find a good movie opening in January unless it was released the previous year for award consideration (and even that's no guarantee of quality). Along Came Polly isn't bad for a January movie, but that isn't saying much.