The fans who have been waiting for a new workplace comedy as wickedly on target as Mike Judge’s cult classic “Office Space” will have to keep waiting. Judge’s new film has no red stapler, no TPS reports coversheet problems, and most of all, it has no flair.
This time, Judge has us on the side of the boss. He is Joel (Jason Bateman), who owns a small manufacturing company that makes flavor extracts. His life is flavorless, get it?
Joel has an office with a window that looks down on the assembly line that conveys the little bottles to the boxes and the forklift. And he has to deal with petty and incompetent employees. But no matter where we are on our own corporate totem poles, it is always going to be more difficult for the audience to identify with the guy who gets to tell everyone what to do before he goes home to his big house and his big bank account.
And it turns out that this movie is less about the workplace than it is another weak frustrated married life comedy. On one hand, this is a good thing because the workplace plot line, involving an industrial accident than unmans one of the workers (Clifton Collins, Jr., you can do better than this) and a scheming temp (ditto Mila Kunis) is neither interesting nor original. On the other hand, it is not a good thing because neither is the marital plot line. Joel is frustrated. His friend (Ben Affleck, bearded) advises Joel to entrap his wife into an affair, thus giving himself carte blanche to do the same. This was briefly popular back the days of, what was that again, oh yes, “Love, American Style.” There is a reason that show is no longer on the air. And it’s the same reason this movie should immediately move to the 99 cent bin and stay there.
Somewhere deep inside this movie, like the little tiny pea in the bed of the princess, is an idea that could have been an interesting movie. Unfortunately, as with that bed of the princess, it is smothered in 20 mattresses of awful and 20 more mattresses of just plain dumb. Warning: the screenplay is by Kim Barker, who was also responsible for the execrable “License to Wed.” Two strikes and Barker should be out for good.
Sandra Bullock produced, so she is responsible for both Barker and casting herself in the lead role, plays Mary Magdalene Horowitz, a cruciverbalist (constructor of crossword puzzles) who has gone way past endearingly quirky and well into the land of the annoying oddball. It could be kind of goofily charming that she wears the same red boots all the time. It could be sort of intriguing that she has some of that Adam-style social dyslexia. But instead she is the kind of person who recites endless random arcana and then, when told to be quiet, lists several entirely audible synonyms for silence. As happens so often in this movie, she gets the letter but not the spirit of what people are saying to her.
So, when she sees Bradley Cooper (the title Steve), a news station cameraman, she immediately jumps on him, which he quickly realizes is too good to be true. He scrapes her off like gum off the bottom of his shoe, and she then commits career suicide and follows him to a series of increasingly un-funny news stories he is covering. Even the always-welcome appearances of top character actors like Beth Grant (glammed up for once), Thomas Haden Church (as a cliched self-centered television correspondent), Ken Jeong (relatively calm for once), D.J. Qualls (bringing class to a barely-written role), and the delightful Katy Mixon (doing more than I would have thought humanly possible as a cliched hick) cannot breathe any life into this soggy story. The best that can be said about Cooper is that he escapes unscathed, a tribute to his true talent and star power.
Bullock is producer, too, and once again she seems to gravitate toward roles that run contrary to conventions of romantic comedy, and I respect that. She likes to play characters who are socially clumsy (“Miss Congeniality”) or incapable in relationships (“Forces of Nature”) and she does not always go for the happily ever after pairing off at the end of the movie. But here the story spirals past edgy into disturbing, with comic references to an infant’s deformity (and the idiocy of the public response) and an accident involving deaf children. While the film is making fun of the media circus about the rescue, it commits the same crime it is satirizing in its treatment of one of the children. The problem with this movie is not the cluelessness of Bullock’s character; it is the cluelessness of the script.
It goes to 11.
Davis Guggenheim (“An Inconvenient Truth”) has made a documentary featuring three generations of guitar gods: Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), The Edge (U2), and Jack White (The White Stripes). But it is not about the musicians. It is about guitars, and passion, and hearing, and sticking it to the man, and art, and music, and the sublime that brings all of those things together. It is a joyous yowl from the depths of existence that soars to the ears of the celestial choirs, where it makes them pause and smile and, if such a thing is possible for angels, envy the humans who get to make such sounds and even those of us who get to listen to them.
We spend time with each of these musicians. The archival clips are surprising and delightful and it is pure pleasure to see these men return to places and instruments that are especially meaningful to them and to listen in as they talk to each other and demonstrate their comments with riffs and techniques. They say that successful musical performers fall into three categories: rock star, performance artist, and musician. These three men are above all musicians. At times they seem to embody music itself, with aural imperatives mortals can only gasp at. Their utter commitment is moving and inspiring. Rock on.
Here are my thoughts on fall movies:
Sept 24 “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole” Director Zach Snyder is known for striking visuals (“300” and “The Watchmen”) so his first family-friendly film, the 3D animated story of Kathryn Lasky’s owl warriors should be something special.
Oct 1 “The Social Network” “The West Wing’s” Aaron Sorkin tells the story of the internet phenomenon that went from a student’s dorm room program to put the school directory online in 2002 to a worldwide phenomenon linking 500 million people, with half of them checking it every day.
Oct 8 “Secretariat” Every autumn brings us some tale of athletic triumph and this is the triumphant tale of the horse that won the triple crown in 1973, setting records still unbroken. Diane Lane plays the owner dismissed as “a housewife” and John Malcovich is the trainer who “dresses like Superfly.”
Oct 22 “The Company Men” A year in the life of three men who’ve been downsized from office jobs, with Ben Affleck, Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, and Maria Bello.
Nov 5 “Megamind” Brad Pitt and Will Ferrell provide the voices for this animated story of superhero vs. supervillain — and supervillain vs. even bigger supervillain.
Nov 19 “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1” The final chapter of the Harry Potter series is so big they made it into two movies. In this one, the final battle begins!