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Sunday, October 08, 2006

Employee of the Month

Back when I was about the age of most of the young’uns working at the concession counter at the Essex Cinemas I was (allegedly) working in my role as an Aryan youth at Disneyland, smiling behind a mop of blond hair and with blue eyes twinkling, every bit the quintessential robotoid illusion of what a California teenager should be. Working in Frontierland as a banjo-playing, balloon-twisting, joke-telling buffoon was an older, college-aged guy who many of us younger cast members (as Disney calls its’ employees) idolized. His name was Steve Martin, and we all knew he was inherently destined for the big-time, even if most of the older, i.e., 30+ crowd tended to ignore his shtick.

This seems to be a trend that every generation goes through, and Dane Cook is definitely the Steve Martin of our time. For the last year or so I’ve heard so much buzz about Cook that when I finally did see him doing his stand-up act on HBO there was no way he could possibly live up to the hype. Still, he was funny, but mostly I just shrugged and wished Eddie Izzard was on instead. I knew I had crossed over, to the other side of “ancient.”

So here comes Employee of the
Month to the
Essex Cinemas this week, with none other than Dane Cook in the starring role and featuring America’s “It” girl Jessica Simpson as his leading lady. What the “it” is I can’t speculate on here, but I’m sure a few shots of penicillin couldn’t hurt to clear “it” up, if you get my meaning. Are you listening, Jess?

Obviously, even though Cook has a lot of other screen credits, including Torque, Stuck on You, and Mystery Men, director Greg Coolidge (Quee
n for a Day) has generously given Cook free reign here to prove himself worthy as a master comedian, leading man, and romantic icon. It’s just too bad that he has Simpson to play off of as the object of his affections. Despite her best attempts, poor Jess has the acting range of a house plant. Her best assets are holding up the front of her blouse, and they are both on display throughout the picture, but other than that she has little to contribute. Actually, her part could have been played by a couple of cantaloupes for a whole lot less money, saving more on the budget to expand the parts of the supporting cast.

Here is where Cook cooks. The supporting cast features old pros Harland Williams (Sorority Boys), Brian George (tv’s “Saved”), and Andy Dick (Hoodwinked) as Dane’s posse of fellow box boys who work with him at a big box store that is obviously a Costco even if the corporate logo is conveniently out of camera shot. Now you may not recognize Williams or George by name, but as soon as you see them you’ll immediately know them from their other high-profile comedy work. Here, they are perfect foils as the slackers who make Dane’s character of Zack look practically rambunctious by comparison. As for Dick, well, everybody knows about Dick and he is pretty much as you’d expect ~ tired and not up to the task of satisfying the way he once could, but at least he still gives it a try and surprises now and again with a shot or two when you least expect it. You have to give him a hand for that.

The story that drives this flimsy vehicle is as silly as the jokes themselves. Box boy Zack Bradley is a failed dot.com giant who now lives with his feisty
grandmother (Barbara Dodd, back on the big screen after a nearly thirty year absence). He lives the simplest of lives, trying to pay back the elderly lady who invested so generously in his Internet business that went belly-up. He and his fellow box boys are treated like the lowest of the low at the mega mart where they work, but they pretty much ignore the situation and find solace in their secret lounge, which is by far the best visual gag I’ve seen in a movie in ages. Talk about hiding in plain sight. I won’t spoil it for you, but I can definitely say that I’ll never visit a Costco and look at the shelves of storage quite the same again.

Things change drastically when Amy (Jessica Simpson and her breasts, naturally, if the word “naturally” can be used that close to them) arrive to
replace a cashier who was held in such regard that nobody even remembers exactly who she was when manager Tim Bagley (Accepted) announces her untimely death. It takes about two minutes before the entire store knows that Amy has a “problem” and was transferred to this store because she has an insatiable need to have sex with whoever the Employee of the Month happens to be. Suddenly a wave of testosterone hits, and Zack is determined to go from loser to cruiser in 30 days or less. There’s only one thing standing in his way.

Vince Downey (Dax Shepard; Zathura: A Space Adventure) has the
distinction of being the Employee of the Month for the past 17 months and if he makes it to 18 he wins a 2005 (!!!) Dodge Malibu and gets promoted to a management trainee position. Okay, as an aside, I do have to wonder how long this load has been fermenting on some studio exec’s shelf if the grand prize in product placement by the powers that be is for a two year old automobile! It makes a person go “Hmmmm.”

So naturally, the fight for Amy’s carnal attentions begins, and thus also begins a long, silly string of stunts as both men try to outdo one another in impressing the boss while also sabotaging one another’s efforts to succeed. By the time everything is over, it’s not difficult to guess that Amy will have found out about the plan, become enraged, and then been wooed back into Zack’s arms where she belongs. Ho hum. Amy, after all, has the brain capacity of a garden gnome, so it’s not as if she could stay mad for too long. She is easily distracted by colors and loud noises.

The funniest bits of the movie are really inexplicably not Cook’s but belong to his nemesis, Vince and Vince’s sidekick, Jorge (Efren Ramirez; Napoleon Dynamite’s Pedro). Jorge is indeed as dumb as Pedro and every bit as slow to realize when he is being taken advantage of by his supposed mentor. His wide-eyed looks of confused innocence make for great chuckles because you know ~ you just know ~ that before all is done Jorge will come out on top and it will be Vince who will pay for his abuse of the little guy.

I can’t honestly say I was wowed by Employee of the Month, but it wasn’t a bomb by any means. It made me laugh, it gave me a chance to see Dane Cook on the big screen doing what it is everybody under 30 seems to find too funny for words, and it gave me a whole new perspective on what goes on behind the scenes at those big box stores when we’re not looking.

There’s worst ways to spend a couple of hours, and if you like cantaloupes, you’ve got those to watch too. Employee of the Month is just plain silly, and there’s no harm in kicking back for a couple of hours, enjoying some delicious popcorn, and settling into a comfy loveseat at the
Essex Cinemas for a night of foolish fun. I’ve been doing it for years, and I’ve got foolish down to a fine art.

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