Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Joel (Jason Bateman) is one of the more desperate characters that I've seen in film recently. He owns a flavor extract plant which he operates from his cozy office even though he often has to step out to deal with a variety of matters. He is clearly more reactive than proactive, but a wild set of problems lead Joel to having to change his ways and redeem himself in his own eyes. Mike Judge perfected the "guy-who-is-a-jerk thinks his job is the problem but it turns out the guy-who-is-a-jerk is the problem" formula with Office Space, and this time he tries the same thing but by switching white collar workers with blue collar workers. This leads to a series of one-dimensional characters and typical set-ups with the characters all at least sharing one common trait, that they are idiots (reminiscent of Judge's film Idiocracy). 

Joel's partner at the plant (played by J.K. Simmons) can't be bothered to learn anyone's name, Step (Clifton Collins Jr.) loses a testicle in a freak accident, Mary (Beth Grant) is a racist who berates the plant's spanish-speaking employees, and Rory (T.J. Miller) only really uses the workers at the plant to gather an audience for his band's gigs. On the home front, Joel is married to Suzie (Kristen Wiig) who is no longer into having sex with her husband and there is also his annoying neighbor (David Koechner) who seems to be under the impression that he and Joel are friends. Matters become complicated for Joel when a con-artist named Cindy (Mila Kunis) uses Step's testicle incident as an excuse for him to sue the company as means for getting money.

The characters sound like they'd make a great ensemble cast for a TV show similar to The Office, but as interesting as these characters might seem, they are really too typical and if anything they are borderline stereotypes. The movie clearly aims to be funny but even with the good acting, the story never gets too uniquely dramatic or comedic for any of the actors to really flesh out their characters more. There are two exceptions, Clifton Collins Jr. continues to establish himself as a character actor while Ben Affleck turns in the most humorous performance of the film as Joel's drug-loving friend, Dean (this leads to a scene that may include the longest bong hit every captured on film). On the down side, David Koechner and Gene Simmons (as Step's lawyer) both phone in their performances but I suppose the intent of having those characters in the story is to annoy Joel (and they really end up annoying the audience). 

Stuck somewhere in the middle is Mila Kunis (who when I last saw her, was playing a very engaging character in Forgetting Sarah Marshall). Kunis's character is a mischievous girl who uses her sexuality to get what she wants but the conclusion for her character (which mirrors Joel's redemption) seems to come out of nowhere unless she somehow realized how wrong her ways were while being off-screen.

Overall, the film just suffers greatly from a general lack of focus. I was still happy to see Bateman in a lead role as it reminded me of his Arrested Development days. The film is just so unconvincing that all of the effort these enjoyable actors possess, just goes to waste.

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