Television previews and in-theatre trailers are giving away too much of the movie.

Stop me if you’ve seen this.

Ben Stiller is playing basketball on a playground. He tries to block the shot of a bare-chested opponent, whose sweaty, hairy and overweight body rubs across Stiller’s face.

In slow motion.

It doesn’t matter whether you’ve seen Stiller’s new movie “Along Came Polly,” which opened Friday. If you’ve watched television at all in the past two weeks, you’ve seen this gross but very funny bit from the movie over and over and over again.

The TV commercials – and the trailers being shown in movie theaters – focus on Stiller’s face rubbing against the sweaty body. In the annals of movie-comedy history, it rivals Stiller’s painful zipper incident in “There’s Something About Mary.”

It’s a shame the studio couldn’t have saved this hilarious moment for the people willing to pay $10 to see the movie in theaters.

Like too many comedies, the biggest laughs are given away before the movie opens.

“It really doesn’t bother me anymore,” a resigned Stiller told me. “At the end of the day, it’s a marketing call.

“It’s the age-old debate over what gets people into theaters. Marketing people believe that they have to show the big jokes to entice people to see the movie. Obviously, there are different theories on the subject.”

“Along Came Polly,” which stars Stiller as an anal-retentive insurance-company risk- assessment analyst whose life is turned upside down by a free spirit played by Jennifer Aniston, was written and directed by John Hamburg, who also co-wrote Stiller’s hit “Meet the Parents,” another comedy that had most of its best gags shown in advance.

“What can I do?” the director said, shaking his head in frustration when I asked him how he could allow this to happen to his work.

“I control the movie, but I can’t control the marketing of my movie. Yes, they gave away some of the big jokes in “Along Came Polly,’ but hopefully not all of them. We held a preview screening just last week, and someone in the audience wrote down on his little card that the trailer hadn’t given away all the best jokes. That was very encouraging.

“But it’s something filmmakers have to learn to live with. “The Perfect Storm’ had its 50-foot wave (a key moment that was shown repeatedly in trailers), and we have the sweaty guy running into Ben.”

I don’t want to single out one movie studio for condemnation on this issue. They’re all to blame. They only care about the bottom line, and they simply don’t care whether they ruin a movie for the audience.

And don’t even get me started on the subject of trailers that reveal key plot points in dramas. That angers me so much that I can’t even discuss it in a family newspaper.

Here are a few other recent comedies they’ve ruined:

In “Something’s Gotta Give,” it sure was funny when Keanu Reeves, playing a doctor, leans over his patient (Jack Nicholson) in the emergency room and asks if he has been taking Viagra. Not wanting to appear less than virile, Nicholson lies to the doctor and says he doesn’t need Viagra, to which the doctor expresses relief because the mix of Viagra and the medication he is about to inject into Nicholson could cause serious medical complications.

Nicholson leaps from a prone position to stop the intravenous drip from pumping into his arm. Funny bit. Saw it at least 10 times before I saw the rest of the movie. Didn’t laugh at it during the movie.

Did you see the Farrelly brothers’ latest movie, “Stuck on You”? It had a few good laughs, but I had seen most of them in the trailer.

The funniest scene in the movie is the one in front of the police station, when the conjoined twins get into a physical fight. Hysterical. Didn’t laugh by the time I saw the movie.

There is a wicked scene in “Bad Santa” when Billy Bob Thornton, who plays a department-store Santa, is eating his lunch in the mall when a mother and child approach him. Santa doesn’t take too kindly to being bothered during his lunch break and, well, you’ve seen the trailer.

In “Cheaper By the Dozen,” one of the rare laughs has to do with meat being stuck in Ashton Kutcher’s pants and how the animals sniff out the goods. You probably saw it in the trailer.

The biggest laugh in the delightful British comedy “Calendar Girls” occurs when the women start to pose for the calendar and a particularly well-endowed woman is seated topless at a table behind a pile of sugary treats. Actress Helen Mirren turns to the photographer and says, “We’re going to need bigger buns.”

It’s the highlight of the movie trailer. I would have preferred it to be the highlight of the movie.

Barry Koltnow: (714) 796-5051, Ext. 1110 or

(c) 2004, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.).

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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-01-19-04 1251EST

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