Dane Cook, Jessica Simpson, Dax Shephard, Brian George, Andy Dick
Chris Conroy, Don Calame
|Where's Jeremy Piven when you need him?
|Dane Cook is a blue-collar Jeremy Piven.
Jeremy Piven is a blue-collar John Cusack.
Where does this leave Cook?
In his first leading role, stand-up comic Dane Cook is left in a discount comedy called "Employee of the Month," portraying Zack, a slacker/box boy at a large bulk discounter called "Super Mart," not to be confused with the dreaded "Maxi Mart." Zack floats through life, does as little as possible, lives with his grandmother (We'll learn why later) and is taunted constantly by Vince (Dax Shephard). Vince is a bleach blonde show off who has been employee of the month 17 months in a row AND is known as the "fastest hands in the Southwest Region." He's about to receive a prized one-year-old Chevrolet Malibu and will be on the fast track to management. All he has to do is win "Employee of the Month" one more time.
Enter Amy Renfro (Jessica Simpson).
Both men vie for the attention of Amy, a new cashier who transfers in from another store. When they discover that she's known to prefer "Employee of the Month," the competition is on.
"Employee of the Month" wants to be like "Office Space." In fact, it gives a few glimpses of being able to make it. Director Greg Coolidge ("Queen for a Day") has a quirky sensibility, the ability to add a few inside jokes and a sense of style that lends itself well to "Office Space" type humor.
Unfortunately, it seems he lacks the balls.
Perhaps, this is why Mike Judge has now had two films treated like crap by studios. Judge's edgy, attitude-filled films make studios squirm and hesitate, while Coolidge's more thoughtful, reserved approach goes into wide release.
Hmmmm. Box office or artistic integrity?
Despite the obvious "holding back," "Employee of the Month" has several inspired moments, sweet moments and modest laughs consistently placed throughout the film.
Cook, a widely popular comic who noone seems to own up to enjoying, has potential in this fairly one-note role. While he lacks Cusack's sensitivity or Piven's overall adorability, Cook projects a comfortableness with his character that makes his character sympathetic...especially after he explains his "slacker" nature.
Shephard's Vince, on the other hand, is almost too much of a foil for Zack. By the film's closing scenes, he's reduced to the sort of comic foil that became so irritating in "Grandma's Boy" from last year. It becomes impossible to believe that he's won "Employee of the Month" 17 times...not even the big box management teams are that stupid.
Then, there's Jessica.
In fairness to Simpson, she's reduced to being the pretty girl here. Her smile is featured predominantly, and her cleavage is flaunted consistently. This is, without a doubt, her most relaxed and likeable role...yet, it still gives little indication that her acting future includes anything beyond supporting character roles.
Zack is surrounded by a marvelous crew of merchandising misfits, including the incomparable character actor Brian George ("Keeping the Faith"), Andy Dick and Harland Williams. Dick, in particular, is hysterical...it's baffling as to why his role practically dissipates halfway through the film. Efren Ramirez ("Napoleon Dynamite") shows up here in essentially his usual performance as the quiet, nerdish pal to Vince.
The strength of "Employee of the Month" lies primarily in the script Chris Conroy, Don Calame and Coolidge. It is filled with subtlety, social commentary and hilarious inside jokes...unfortunately, it takes a special kind of actor to bring such dialogue to life. While Brian George and Andy Dick marvelously bring their characters to life, too often the main players drop dialogue that should have been hysterically funny or pointed.
There's Zack and Amy on a "date" inside the "Super Mart," while being serenaded by a janitor singing an Italian Aria from Don Giovanni.
That's hysterical, but do Cook fans even get it? I doubt it.
There's the store manager, Glen Gary, and his brother, Glen Ross...c'mon, I'm still laughing about it. If you see them, you'll find it even funnier.
The screenwriters sprinkle the film with references such as these, however, the cast desperately needed a strong enough actor in one of the three leading roles to anchor the humor. Without a strong lead, "Employee of the Month" ends up being a having far more dead spots than it should.
In the course of four hours, two of my most anticipated lighter Fall films have been astounding disappointments (this and the latest "Texas Chainsaw" flick). I am left with the overwhelming anticipation I feel for the upcoming "Happy Feet," an animated film with penguins, Robin Williams, Nicole Kidman and more. I simply adore the trailers.
I'm going to go watch "Office Space" again.
|© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic