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Movie Review: Office Space

By Vladimir Zelevinsky
staff reporter

Written and directed by Mike Judge.

With Ron Livingston, Gary Cole, Jennifer Aniston.

Satire closes by Sunday night, and that doesn't bode well for movies. Perhaps this is why satire is the most underrepresented genre in modern filmmaking. Last year, we had the relatively unnoticed (and, notably, financially underperforming) Wag the Dog and Bullworth, and that's about it. Now Mike Judge (Beavis and Butthead, King of the Hill) tries his hand at it, and flunks it. Judge displayed his skill at creating exciting characters in King, and healthy viciousness with B&B. And while you'd think he'd do a good job with the trials and tribulations of the office space minions, Office Space is just entirely too nice.

The story is that of corporate drone Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston), who gets a major attitude change at the hypnotist when stressed and panicky existence segues into a nirvana state. Now he sleeps in, skips meetings, ignores dress code, pays zero attention to his boss (Gary Cole, amusingly deadpan), and skips work to romance Joanne, a waitress in the diner next door (Jennifer Aniston).

Judge has a sharp eye, and his recreation of the cubicle universe is note-perfect. The minor details (the boss who never parts with his coffee mug, the fight for a better stapler, the pink-slip-wielding consultants, the pointless morale-building slogans) are great, and herein lies a certain problem. For most of its first half, Office Space bubbles merrily along, content to point out the ridiculous details of its milieu; but it never reaches the boiling point, thus remaining realistic.

My question is: Why? Sure, I could easily relate to the workspace drones of Judge's corporate anthill, but it all makes for a rather low-grade hilarity, with smiles of recognition aplenty, but with real laughs coming only once in a few minutes. Satire can't pull punches; it can't be mild, and it certainly can't leave the impression of being loose and limp. This movie does.

At 88 minutes, is feels long and undercooked, with undercranked tempo and many rather pointless sequences. Still, the first half is rather agreeable, buoyed by an excellent performance by Cole, who already demonstrated his amazing talent for mimicry in The Brady Bunch Movie (he played Mike) and A Simple Plan. Here, with his delivery droll and uninflected, each line starting with drawn out "Yyyyeeeeaaaahhhhhh," continuing with some inane request, and ending with "that'd beeee just greeaaaaaaaat" he is a shrewd comic creation.

The rest of the characters are rather bland, looking rather like lifeless cartoons, with no more than two character details to distinguish them from each other. Jennifer Aniston is very appealing in a low-key role, but her subplot is entirely superfluous. The lead is utterly forgettable, with his only feature being funky-looking eyebrows.

But it's the second half where Office Space start disintegrating quite rapidly, after it becomes clear that Judge isn't even interested in satire, spinning instead an obvious and tedious plot about his characters attempting some kind of a payback on the company by uploading a computer virus. This results in [shudder] the characters Growing, Maturing, and Learning Important Life Lessons. Hugging commences. The narrative falls apart.

Even then Judge manages two rather neat sequences, the only ones which display some visual wit, namely the upload of the said virus, done like a Mission: Impossible segment, replete with slow motion and sound effects, and a brutal revenge which the characters exact on a faulty fax machine.

The ending is rather obvious and not very engaging, and the story really feels like a squandering of a great idea. The most interesting plot tangent when Peter mentions that from now on he won't be doing anything he doesn't want to, like paying bills and such is not developed at all. The heart of Office Space is, of course, entirely in the right place, but the execution is listless. This movie ends up being cute and easy, and that's not the best choice for what cries out to be a ruthlessly funny satire.

As a postscript, I'd like to mention that I wrote this whole review without mentioning Dilbert even once. Uhh, until now. Oops.