Recently, I watched Dane Cook's HBO-taped special, Vicious Circle, filmed at the Banknorth Garden in Boston--the guy quipped on everything from being sneezed on to breaking and entering. But even while riffing on sneaky girlfriends, Cook straddled a fine line that rarely offended. Maybe that's why he's so gosh-darned likeable: he's the kind of guy, with an acutely observant everyday sense of humor, you could either take home to charm the parents or kick back with during a Wednesday night game of poker with the buds. He's one humorous, inoffensive dude.
In Employee of the Month, Cook plays the inoffensive, likable Zack, a thirtysomething box boy whose lacking ambitions have stranded him on the last rung of the employment ladder at the local Super Club (think Costco or Sam's Club). That is, until Amy (Jessica Simpson), a barbie doll-like cashier, transfers to the store. Seems Amy has a penchant for bedding the Employee of the Month; meanwhile, Zack and the reigning Employee of the Month, Vince (Dax Shepard), develop a liking for Amy. They vie for that month's title hoping to score the affectations of the buxom blonde.
Most of Employee of the Month seems filmed inside the store, and initially, it's fun to catch a behind-the-scenes look into what seems at first glance to be an inane environment. But with posh cashier lounges to check-out races, director Greg Coolidge wants you to wonder, Who knew all this crap went down at your local Costco?
What could have been a witty little comedy--a tongue-in-cheek glimpse at an overlooked social environment--comes dead-on-arrival. Don Calame and Chris Conroy's screenplay is so devoid of humor, that even Cook can't maintain any comic momentum beyond the rare funny gag that I credit more to comedic timing than "clever" writing. Shepard has it even worse: He's supposed to be a wannabe bad-ass, but he drowns in awkward moments, from lame banter with sidekick Jorge, apparently meant to echo moments in the 80s TV series Fantasy Island, to painful one-liners ("Pink... as a vagina!").
How does Simpson fare? Movie execs reportedly ponied up $1,240 a word for the 26-year-old entertainer--she speaks 806 words of dialogue--to play Amy, and while she doesn't stink up the joint, she doesn't light up the screen either. Other than a fleetingly charming moment where she reveals she has Dumbo-ish ears to Zack, Simpson remains plaintive wallpaper to Cook and Shepard's hammed-up proceedings, partly because she isn't given much to do, and partly because of a palpable lack of screen presence, proving a blinding smile and "double Ds" (sorry, Papa Joe) do not an actress make.
Poking fun at minorities and cultural stereotypes apparently comes with this type of comedy, but last summer's Wedding Crashers--as Employee is indirectly compared to in trailers--pulled off irreverent humor with infinitely more finesse. Employee tries mocking the mentally challenged, the closeted homosexuals, and the random midget among other "easy" targets, but only elicits awkward laughs. I mean, am I seriously supposed to chuckle at an obese, African American, mentally-challenged security guard just because he is who he is? Or the closeted gay manager who accidentally dyed the store's softball uniforms (GASP) pink?
Employee of the Month goes for laughs with its low-brow humor--fart jokes, cultural stereotypes, slapstick--but its vacuous writing delivers it with all the panache of a poor man's Kevin Smith film.
I'd like to think we, as audiences, are smarter than that.