April 05, 2020

‘Employee of the Month’ doesn’t deserve honor

In theaters

EMPLOYEE OF THE MONTH, directed by Greg Coolidge, written by Don Calame, Coolidge and Chris Conroy, 103 minutes, rated PG-13.

By virtue of its title alone, is it too much to expect “Employee of the Month” to be something special, perhaps a cut above your everyday comedy? Shouldn’t the jokes make that extra effort, as well as the cast? Is it unreasonable to come to this particular movie seeking fresh ideas – maybe even just a few?

Without the film attempting to break free from the old jokes that undermine it, how can one pin a gold star to it?

The movie, which director Greg Coolidge co-wrote with Don Calame and Chris Conroy, isn’t a bust – it’s likable enough. Sometime it makes you smile. Occasionally an actor nails a good line. But big laughs? You won’t find them on Aisle 11 – or any of the film’s other aisles, for that matter.

The movie stars Dane Cook as Zack Bradley, a bright yet unmotivated box, uh, boy (he crested 30 some time ago) at the big-box superstore, Super Club. Zack lives with his feisty grandmother and appears to be stuck in a rather large rut. His mode of transportation, for instance, isn’t a car or even a scooter – instead, it’s a motorized mini bike, one perfectly suited to embrace Zack’s bruised inner child.

Turning Zack’s bruise a shade darker is Vince (Dax Shepard), a cruel, corporate brown-noser who is Super Club’s fastest and, to the public, its most adored cashier. The man is a veritable juggling act behind the register, where the ladies love him – and the industrial-sized can lights above his head appropriately turn his bleached blond hair into ringlets of fire.

From the start, these two loathe each other to the point of distraction, so it’s only natural that war ignites between them the moment a lovely new employee comes aboard and catches their eye.

That would be Amy (Jessica Simpson), who arrives at Super Club on a scarlet red carpet of rumors that suggest she is sexually available for any man who wins employee of the month. Lovely girl. Since Vince is on the fast track to win the store’s award, Zack believes the only way he will have a chance at Amy’s red carpet is if he steps up to the plate and pulls off the win himself.

What ensues is porridge, though at least it isn’t served cold. Warming the film are faint echoes of Mike Judge’s “Office Space,” which helps. Also, a few scenes do connect, such as a date shared between Amy and Zack in which he woos her at the store after hours (the boxed wine is a hit, as are Amy’s oversized ears).

More clever is the idea that high up within the towering stacks of products you find at such industrial-sized stores, Zach and his box-buddy pals (Andy Dick, Brian George, Harland Williams) have created a hideaway niche in which they can steal away for a round of cards while forgetting the minutiae shuffling below them.

Sometimes, you sense the more interesting, funnier movie would have taken place there.

Grade: C


BATMAN BEGINS, directed by Christopher Nolan, written by Nolan and David S. Goyer, 140 minutes, rated PG-13.

The good news about Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins” is that it doesn’t cave. Throughout the film, you can feel the pleasure that went into making it, with Nolan delivering an intense, beautifully crafted movie that deepens the Batman franchise with a fully realized vision that gets to the heart of how Batman began.

Now available in a sharp, high-definition transfer on HD DVD, the film follows Nolan’s previous movies, “Memento” and “Insomnia,” with a story that focuses on a tormented soul facing a troubled past. True, this soul wears a mask, but then so do all of the characters in Nolan’s works, even if those masks aren’t as readily apparent as the one worn by this new Batman, nicely played by Christian Bale.

A quick glance at Nolan’s films suggests an emerging theme – the idea that all of us wear masks. Whether it’s at work or in our relationships, at the grocery story or at the gas pump, what haunts us, what angers us, what worries us and consumes us is carefully concealed behind a protective veneer of benign expression.

For Nolan, it’s the peeling away of that mask that excites him, the search for truth that intrigues him. And so, not surprisingly, this story of what lurks behind a legendary superhero’s mask proves the perfect match for his talents and interests. “Batman Begins” is Nolan at his best. It’s his movie all the way.

What he does in “Batman Begins” is to reinform the Batman legacy with a backstory, allowing audiences fully into Bruce Wayne’s world and thus, in turn, the man behind the mask. This differs from Tim Burton’s 1989 version, which offered no insight into why Wayne selected a bat, of all vermin, as his guise of choice. Instead, Burton went for raucous, comic-book camp, which Nolan eschews in favor of new-age realism. As a result, his movie is dense and introspective, neither truncated nor rushed.

With a fine supporting cast that includes Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson and a pre-Tom Katie Holmes, the movie is never boring – far from it – and it doesn’t assume we know the legend going into it. Instead, this thrilling film makes us see again why Batman has mattered to so many for so long.

Grade: A

Visit www.weekinrewind.com, the archive of Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s reviews, which appear Mondays in Discovering, Fridays in Happening, and Weekends in Television. He may be reached at Christopher


The Video-DVD Corner

Renting a video or a DVD? BDN film critic Christopher Smith can help. Below are his grades of recent releases in video stores. Those in bold print are new to video stores this week.

Akeelah and the Bee – B+

ATL – B-

Basic Instinct 2 – D+

The Benchwarmers – D

Big Momma’s House 2 – D

Breakfast on Pluto – B

The Breakup – B

Brokeback Mountain – A-

Broken Trail – B

Capote – A

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: HD DVD – A-

Cheaper by the Dozen 2 – C-

Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – A

Click – C-

The Constant Gardener – A-

Curious George – B

Date Movie – D-

Derailed – C+

Docudrama Film Festival, Vol. 2 – B+

Double Indemnity – A

Failure to Launch – C-

The Family Stone – D

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift – B

Freedomland – C-

Friends with Money – B

The Hills Have Eyes – D

A History of Violence – A

How Art Made the World – A

Howl’s Moving Castle – A-

Inside Man – B+

Junebug – A

Kinky Boots – B+

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang – B+

Last Holiday – B

The Libertine – D

Lucky Number Slevin – B

The Matador – B+

Match Point – A

Munich – A-

Nanny McPhee – B-

North Country – C

The Omen – B-

Over the Hedge – B

Paradise Now – A-

The Polar Express – C-

Poseidon – B

A Prairie Home Companion – C

Pride & Prejudice – A

The Producers – B+

Red Eye – B+

Rumor Has It… – C-

Saving Shiloh – B

Scary Movie 4 – D+

Sculptures of the Louvre – A-

The Shaggy Dog – C-

Shakespeare Behind Bars – A-

16 Blocks – B

The Squid and the Whale – B+

Stay alive – D-

Syriana: Blu-Ray – B+

Take the Lead – C-

Transamerica – B

United 93 – A

Walk the Line – A-

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit – A

The Warrior – B

X-Men: The Last Stand – B-

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