Dir: Greg Coolidge. US.2006. 103mins.
Neitheroutrageously funny nor sweetly romantic enough to generate much interest, EmployeeOf The Month is anegligible work-place comedy that struggles to establish its personality. Inhis first leading role, standup comedian Dane Cook does what he can withthreadbare material but, more critically, lacks the sort of undeniable screencharisma a movie star requires.
Opening EmployeeOf The Month on October6, almost a year to the day after its similarly themed dead-end job comedy Waiting..., Lionsgate hopes to catch lightning in abottle with the casting of popular standup act Cook, who has made his name withcomedy albums and TV specials. But while his romantic lead, Jessica Simpson,was part of 2005's moderately successful Dukes Of Hazzard ($80m domestically, $30minternationally), a dearth of big names will hamstring Employee theatrically; the film should have itsbiggest impact in the rental market. Internationally, where Cook and Simpsonare even less well-known, Employee will probably garner little attention.
Unmotivated Zack(Cook) works a menial job at a large-volume retail store, mostly goofing offwith his coworkers and harassing Vince (Dax Shepard), a super-competitivecashier who has won the "Employee of the Month" award for the last 17 months.When cute Amy (Simpson) transfers to their store, both Zack and Vince areinstantly smitten. Hearing that she only dates men who are "Employee of theMonth," however, Zack decides to start taking his job seriously so he can winthe honor and, therefore, the girl.
Indifferentlydirected by newcomer Greg Coolidge, Employee Of The Month flirts with broad slapstick comedy aswell as romantic date-night sincerity and ends up falling into a dull middleground. There are some mild chuckles throughout, but the characters andsituations are overly familiar, and the love story between Zack and Amyslavishly resuscitates the usual script conventions - they meet, theyfall for each other, they start to get serious, they break up, they reconcileand end up together - without feeling organic. (Tabloid rumors had linked the two romantically over thesummer, but you'd be hard pressed to believe those reports based on theirstilted scenes together in Employee.)
As a leadingman, Cook seems reined in by the film's teenager-friendly PG-13 rating. Hisstandup comedy often involves frenetic movement and offensive material, buthe's never given a moment in Employee to exhibit such freewheeling or shocking behavior. Instead,he plays an innocuous rough-around-the-edges guy who must take stock of hislife if he is to land the wholesome Amy. Robbed of his usual freedom to flingthe F-word haphazardly, Cook can't energize Employee's tired punch lines and he possessesnone of the sharpness that made him popular in the first place.
Meanwhile,Simpson (who is arguably more famous because of her public persona as a ditzyblonde than for her singing or acting careers) is extremely awkward on screen,unable to supply much sexual spark or lighthearted humor. Her cardboard "goodgirl" character's only discernible trait is her attractiveness. As a performer,she remains a cute but empty vessel.
Playing thearrogant buffoon Vince, Shepard gets the majority of the film's laughs,exposing this blowhard's rampant insecurities and foolishness. (When Vinceworks the checkout line, he hilariously showboats much like Tom Cruise'shot-dogging barkeeper from Cocktail, flinging produce and boxes in the air with a juggler's flair.These are easily Employee's funniest moments.) While Cook and Simpson are trapped playing blandly "likeable" loveinterests, Shepard has fun as the hiss-worthy obstacle to their romance. Onewonders what Cook could have done with the extra breathing room this supportingrole would have provided.
Beyond theperformances, though, Employee follows a hopelessly predictable narrative arc - apatheticanti-hero discovers his purpose thanks to the love of a good woman, winning therespect of his peers and conquering his nemesis along the way. But instead oftoying with the cliches of such a familiar story, Coolidge plays them straight,trying instead to breathe life into uninspired comedy staples such as crassgrandmothers, weak men of uncertain sexuality, and the mentally challenged. EmployeeOf The Month also makessome ineffectual stabs at lampooning the drudgery of blue-collar jobs, butafter the cutting satire of The Office and Office Space, the genially anonymous Employee Of The Month feels like little more than aredundancy, in every sense of the word.
Robert L. Levy
(story by Don Calame & Chris Conroy)
Anthony B. Richmond
Jon Gary Steele
Barbara Dodd Ramsen