On the list of the world's greatest mysteries, right up there with the Loch Ness monster, the grassy knoll and Stonehenge, is the inexplicable wildfire popularity of Dane Cook. The blank-eyed, scruffy and perpetually juvenile comedian is the current toast of American frat boys, who howl at his every supposed witticism and total mastery of the obvious. No doubt that same party-loving horde will flock in droves to this inoffensive and tepid comedy, Cook's first starring vehicle.
Cook is Zack, a directionless slacker who has been happily drifting for a decade since his Internet start-up bit the dust. He's a stock boy at "Super Club," one of those cavernous discount stores that sell caramel corn by the metric ton, along with floor wax, televisions and caskets. He's so lazy he hardly walks anymore, instead gliding around on those little wheels in the soles of his sneakers, the favored footwear of preteen delinquents.
With his bland looks and low wattage charisma, Cook holds the picture together with all the conviction of a donut hole, but he's far from the only problem. Normally you'd have to watch Mad TV to find a cast this unfunny, but Employee of the Month sports an impressive assembly of third stringers, with Harland Williams (Sorority Boys), Efrem Ramirez (Napoleon Dynamite) Jessica Simpson and Andy Dick all sucking the life out of the movie. It only takes about 10 minutes for utter desperation to set in, and for the weak dick and fart jokes to start flying like Frisbees. The few laughs to be found mostly come from Dax Shepard as Vince, a vain ass-kisser and Zack's rival for the affection of the new cashier (Simpson), and the employee-of-the-month title. Shepard is broad, grating and over-the-top, but at least he makes an effort, unlike Simpson, whose only depth comes from her cleavage.
Big box retailers are a perfect target for satire à la Office Space, but the filmmakers seems to have zero interest in pursuing anything other than the cheapest possible laugh. Inexplicably, the blissful characters are so happy working these soul-crushing jobs that it's nauseating. This is the first full-length feature for director Greg Coolidge, and it shows: Scenes drift, shots linger, and the whole thing has a distinctly made-for-TV feel. Even when the script aims for highbrow with a David Mamet joke, naming the store manager Glen Gary and his bullying older brother Glen Ross, it still fumbles.
There is a good-natured sweetness to it all, and the movie thankfully lacks the nasty gross-out tendencies of similar loser comedies like Grandma's Boy but it also has half the laughs. Ultimately, the flick is as prefab, focus-tested and homogenized as its setting, and where a sterile environment is ideal for groceries, it's lethal for a comedy.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].