NEW YORK – Has Ben Stiller (search) ever met a movie he's said no to?
Even the diminutive neurotic's fans (myself included) are starting to beg for relief from the ubiquitous star, who's so far this year appeared in "Along Came Polly" (search) and "Starsky & Hutch." (search)
They will be followed by "Envy" next month, "Dodgeball: A True Underdog" in June, a cameo in August's Will Ferrell comedy "Anchorman" and, finally, the "Meet the Parents" sequel, "Meet the Fockers," in December.
Add in last fall's "Duplex," and that's seven movies in 15 months - along with Stiller's recurring role on HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm," his appearance as a presenter on the Oscar show and the recent release of "The Ben Stiller Show" on DVD.
While such overexposure is hardly unprecedented, the threadbare scripts he has been working with lately rises the possibility of the talented comic turning into another Ben Affleck (search) or, worse, Eddie Murphy (search) - two other busy actors who've been none-too-choosy about their well-paying roles (one of Affleck's was actually titled "Paycheck").
Stiller started out doing edgier movies like "Flirting With Disaster" (search) and "Permanent Midnight" before settling into a comfortable, remunerative rut of playing tightly wound guys who end up being humiliated - vomited upon by Drew Barrymore in "Duplex," one of last fall's more notable flops, or afflicted with gastric distress in "Along Came Polly," a negligibly better romantic comedy that somehow became an $87 million hit in January.
"Starsky & Hutch," a parody of the '70s cop show that took in a healthy $51 million in its first 10 days this month, does not have much to recommend it beyond Stiller's chemistry with Owen Wilson - with whom he appeared in six earlier movies.
The outlook is even less promising for "Envy," in which Stiller plays a jealous schnook whose neighbor (Jack Black (search)) cashes in on a get-rich-quick scheme. This comedy was originally scheduled to open last summer, then was postponed while DreamWorks denied rumors it was being shipped straight to video.
"Duplex" was also delayed - for more than a year - helping to create the present unplanned logjam of Stiller products, which not everybody thinks is bad for Stiller's career.
"Part of what has worked for Stiller is being so prolific," argues David Poland, editor of the Web portal moviecitynews, who roughly calculates that at least a third of Stiller's movies have been profitable.
"If one film dies, another one comes along pretty quickly. After 'Along Came Polly' and 'Starsky & Hutch,' 'Envy' and 'Dodgeball' can both tank and people will still be lining up for 'Meet the Fockers.'"
James Ulmer, author of "The Hot List," calls Stiller "an extremely smart and shrewd" comedian who's found his niche in cranking out assembly-line comedies as a put-upon Everyman.
"If he has two hits out of six movies, he can continue working," Ulmer said. "His looks guarantee he will never be a big romantic leading man, or another Sean Connery."
Yes, but Stiller can and should drop his price to appear in another solid drama like "Permanent Midnight," which he also directed.
A gifted writer, he should create more roles for himself like "Zoolander," (search) in which he played a dim fashion model who didn't hew to the standard Stiller neurotic persona.
And he should look for more ensemble parts like the one he had in the superb "The Royal Tenenbaums."
But mostly, Stiller should take a long vacation - and learn to Just Say No more often when somebody offers him eight figures to appear in yet another mediocre comedy.