Employee of the Month

2007-08-03 17:09
What it’s about:

A pair of supermarket clerks – one a slacker (Dane Cook), and one a suck-up (Dax Shepard) - get into a fierce competition to be the store’s employee of the month. Both hope to bed the comely new cashier (Jessica Simpson), who is rumoured to fall only for overachievers.

What we thought of it:

What is it with Americans and their insatiable lust for celebrating mediocrity and underachievement? How many more tales of the Noble Slacker who Overcomes the Odds do we have to sit through? Well, given Hollywood’s fondness for repetition, probably at least a dozen more this decade. We can only hope that they will be funnier than the bland wasteland that is Employee of the Month.

It’s not that the movie itself lacks ambition. Given all the painfully obvious effort the trio of writers put into keeping things “quirky” and “edgy”, they clearly thought they were making a cross between Napoleon Dynamite and Clerks, and not this anaemic copy of Grandma’s Boy. Their jokes must have looked better on paper, because most of them crash and burn when they hit the screen.

And the writers certainly aren’t getting much help from their mostly B-grade cast. Leading the charge is the well meaning but misguided Dax Shepard as the store’s golden boy Vince. Rarely has so much effort produced so little humour. Still, at least he’s trying. All Jessica Simpson seems able to do is stand around smiling beneficently, blinking those big cow eyes and displaying her ample bosom. Well, she made a music career out of her looks, so why not acting?

You might expect a ray of hope from former stand-up comedian Dane Cook, who has proved exceptionally funny on stage, but he doesn’t seem to be able to translate his sharp-tongued swagger to the big screen. Oh, he’s likeable enough, but strangely subdued. The closest we get to his scorching wit is calling Vince’s sidekick “Whore Gay” (instead of “Jorge”). Yep – the writing is that bad. (Incidentally Jorge is played by the wonderful Efren Ramirez who shone as Pedro in Napoleon Dynamite - a character that the writers have tried, unsuccessfully, to imitate here.)

Employee of the Month isn’t a terrible film. It just lacks the courage of its convictions. Slacker comedies can be brilliant if the writing is clever (like Clerks) or the premise is sufficiently silly (like Dodgeball) or even if the jokes are gloriously crude enough (like Harold and Kumar Go to Whitecastle).

But writer/director Greg Coolidge and his team are just too lightweight to produce real wit and too prissy to be truly obscene. In the end their film comes across like a wannabe younger brother, desperate to tell a cool, risqué joke but afraid mommy might be watching.

- Alistair Fairweather
If you like your jokes weak and your actors bland, then Employee of the Month is your kind of comedy.

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