Total Recall: Ben Stiller's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Little Fockers star.
Though he's primarily known for playing guys who have a hard time doing anything right, Ben Stiller is one of the most successful talents in Hollywood -- a writer/director/actor whose occasional wanderings into critically rotten territory haven't put a dent into his incredible bankability. Stiller's films have grossed more than $2.1 billion, a total that includes the more than $800 million racked up by Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers -- and with the third installment in the franchise, Little Fockers, arriving in theaters this weekend, we decided now would be the perfect time to take a look back at his critical highlights. (Spoiler alert: Envy will not be covered.) It's time for another round of Total Recall!
10. Zero Effect
Who's the private dick that drinks Tab and avoids people if at all possible? Why, Daryl Zero, of course -- the neuroses-riddled P.I. played by Bill Pullman in Jake Kasdan's 1998 cult favorite Zero Effect. With Stiller co-starring as his conflicted assistant, and an eclectic supporting cast that included Ryan O'Neal, Zero Effect was a little too quirky for mainstream success, and quite a few critics didn't know what to make of it -- but the majority appreciated Kasdan's offbeat style, including Roger Ebert, who wrote, "This is one of those movies that creeps up on you, insidiously gathering power. By the end, I was surprised how much I was involved."
Edward Norton made his directorial debut with this dramedy, whose misguided, run-of-the-mill love triangle marketing campaign disguised its unusually thoughtful religious themes. Stiller played Jacob, a rabbi whose lifelong friendship with a priest (Norton) is complicated when a woman from their past (Jenna Elfman) resurfaces, unwittingly sparking a rivalry between the two -- and raising tough questions about how to deal with conflicts between one's faith and one's love life. A modest hit with audiences and critics, Keeping the Faith earned the admiration of scribes such as Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat of Sprituality and Practice, who applauded it as "The first film in years to present two servants of God as ardent, idealistic, hard-working, and interesting people."
Part of a very busy year for Stiller that saw him starring in five movies (including Meet the Fockers, Envy, Along Came Polly, and Starsky & Hutch) and turning in a memorable cameo in Anchorman, this ensemble sports comedy pitted Stiller against Vince Vaughn in another round of the classic battle between the haves and the have-nots...only this time, with dodgeballs. Comedies this broad don't usually resonate with critics, and this one arrived during a glut of ribald, sports-themed comedies, but Dodgeball hit the sweet spot between critical and commercial success because, in the words of Rolling Stone's Peter Travers, "This masterpiece of modern cinema depends upon a single truism: A guy getting hit in the nuts a hundred times in a row is funny a hundred times."
Writer/director Noah Baumbach excels at making movies about essentially unlikable people, and Ben Stiller is fearless when it comes to playing them, so it was no surprise that their collaboration for 2010's Greenberg yielded largely positive reviews -- as well as plenty of wrinkled noses from filmgoers who couldn't stomach the self-absorbed, off-putting behavior unfolding onscreen. "There's a lot not to like about Greenberg, the character and the film," cautioned David Stratton of Australia's At the Movies, "and yet, by the end, I found it very touching, and the final scene is so imbued with delicacy and humanity that any stumbles along the way can be forgiven."
Neil LaBute's 1998 ensemble dramedy Your Friends & Neighbors united a stellar cast -- including Stiller, Catherine Keener, Jason Patric, and Aaron Eckhart -- to tell the frequently bleak tale of the sexual entanglements between three unhappy couples. Grim, unflinching, and thoroughly uncomfortable, this is vintage LaBute -- which is to say it was only ever destined to be a hit with critics such as Netflix's James Rocchi, who cautioned, "You will not like Your Friends and Neighbors; it's intense, unflinching and uncomfortable. You won't look away from it, though, and you won't forget the people it showed you for a long time."