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Office Space

Office Space is a very funny piece of dark-humor starring Ron Livingston (Swingers) and Jennifer Aniston (TV's "Friends"), and it's directed and written by Mike Judge. Judge is best known as the father of Beavis and Butthead, poster children for slack. Well, Mike has gone from the drawing board to the set for his first live-action movie, and, folks, he's skewered the beast that is The Office.

Peter (Livingston) hates his life. He hates his job. He hates the way his job has destroyed his will to live. He slaves away under who-knows-how-many bosses, in a cubicle maze with no end, and he can't stand it anymore. His only escape is the local choke-happy restaurant, where his dream girl, Joanna (Anniston) works as a waitress. Joanna is just as disillusioned as Peter is. She can't be a waitress without being perky and smiling, and her regulation suspenders have to have a "minimum of fifteen pieces of flair" on them, meaning those ignorant catch-phrase buttons and logo ads. This, according to her boss, is how the wait staff get to express themselves, so long as they all conform.

Office Space Finally, out of desperation, Peter lets his real girlfriend talk him into going to an "Occupational Hypnotherapist," who puts Peter under and suggests to him that his job doesn't really matter. There's nothing to worry about, the "doctor" tells him, so just relax. But, alas, the "doctor" has a fatal heart attack before he brings Peter out of the trance, so Peter is left not giving a good tinker's dang about his job, his bosses, or the whole corporation, which goes by the innocuous name of Initech (read: "any tech....") Peter finally does whatever he wants to do at work, including not showing up to go fishing and cleaning his catch atop the reports that he has to process every month. And, finally, he's loving it! Who cares?

Peter's bosses do, that's who. His immediate boss, Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole from The Brady Bunch Movie) is a monotone drone, who speaks only in little jingoisms and wears a never-ending collection of pastel shirts and suspenders. The efficiency experts that are downsizing Initech, though, think Peter is a revolutionary, a genius, and demand that he be promoted. All well and good, but Peter's friends Samir and Michael are canned in the process. So, the three of them set out to teach the company a lesson. They're going to rip the company off with a computer virus and laugh all the way to the bank.

Folks, I can't begin to tell you how I feel right now, thinking about this movie. Don't get me wrong now. This is a funny film, especially where the Mike Judge-isms shine through. Livingston is great as the frustrated Peter, and when he's "freed" from his inhibitions, he gets to show off a smart-aleck tone that will remind you of Chevy Chase, back when Chevy was funny, for that brief shining moment back in 1975. Aniston is here basically for the ride, playing a slightly hipper version of Rachel from Friends. The nice surprises here are the guys that play Peter's friends Samir and Michael. Samir, played by Ajay Naidu (SubUrbia), is the stereotypical immigrant, but his misappropriation of the language is kind of funny, and his attitude is even funnier. Michael, played by David Herman (Mad TV), though, is the perfect set-up man for Peter. Michael's last name is Bolton, and he despises the pop star for all he's worth. This Michael is a wannabe gangsta, hard rap music blaring on his car stereo in the middle of traffic, using "Street" language, all the while being as "whitebread" and nerdy as he can be. Think Vanilla Ice as portrayed by Robert Carradine in Revenge of the Nerds. When the three of them team up for their big caper, it looks like a VERY poor man's version of Reservoir Dogs. Judge cuts to slow motion as they "execute" their plan, and even slower when they execute their ever-malfunctioning laser printer in a field. Hardcore music blaring, these three beat this poor printer to death, Michael even resorting to using his fists on this damnable machine that symbolizes everything about Initech.

Big standouts in smaller roles are Diedrich Bader and Stephen Root. Bader (The Drew Carey Show) plays Lawrence, Peter's neighbor, who offers his advice on anything while casually swiping a beer. Root, who you may know as the ultra-confident Jimmy James from TV's NewsRadio, plays Milton, one of the Initech cubicle drones. Milton is so ingrained into the office that he has no life outside the office. He has been reduced to a mumbling, bug-eyed basket case, whose stapler is his best friend. When Milton is slowly forced out in the downsizing, he begins to mutter things like "I'll burn this place down...". Root plays this so well, you know that, sooner or later, Milton is going to go postal, and the only question is when.

I saw this movie in Atlanta, while I was visiting with a bunch of friends. As I sat there, laughing at this movie, I heard people laughing right along with me, but they were laughing for a different reason. They were laughing because they live the life that Peter, Samir, Michael, and Milton are living. They populate the cubicles; they spend hours while Bill Lumbergh-clones hit them with slogans and posters about goal setting, quality charts, and spreadsheets. These folks were rolling in the floor because, in one's words, somebody finally told the truth about the stupidity of the office life. Mike Judge hits notes that send this movie very close to home for millions of people, and, these folks are desperate to laugh at it.

I do have to say, though, that, as funny as it is, Judge lets it slip away in the last act. He builds and builds and builds, setting everything up for some big revolutionary climax, and it never comes. Picture, if you will, National Lampoon's Animal House without the big parade disaster at the end. It just doesn't pay off as well, huh? Well, same here. For over an hour, we're all guffawin' and getting ready for the big parade, and, when it comes, it's three cars, a clown, and a guy pushing a broom. No major surprises, no spectaculars, just a yawn and a promise. Big letdown, Mike. Beavis and Butthead would disapprove....

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