Employee of the Month / Dustin Rowles
Film Reviews | October 16, 2006 | Comments ()
Understanding that I’m a little late to the bandwagon of hate that Dane Cook inspires, I’m somewhat reluctant to jump on at this stage — but the truth is, Employee of the Month is his first significant cinematic appearance (and don’t worry, he’s got five more in production), so this review provides my first opportunity to offer an opinion on the man. I’ll concede, however, that it wasn’t until last weekend that it dawned on me the particulars of what I didn’t like about him. I’d seen him on his appearance on “SNL” last season, and even took the effort to buy his latest stand-up album to further explore why it is that this guy had developed such a cult following, but aside from a voice strangely reminiscent of Ryan Reynolds (who actually is funny), I just didn’t get it. And then — about halfway through an Old Crow Medicine Show concert last weekend — I made this epiphanic realization about the stand-up comedian: Dane Cook is that dumbass who shows up to every (every) concert you’ve ever been to in your life and screams in between every single motherfucking song break, “Freebird! Hey, Man. Play Freebird!”
And you know what? I seriously doubt that the first person who ever said that 30 years ago was particularly clever, and yelling “Freebird” at the top of your lungs still isn’t funny today. And yet Dane Cook is exactly the kind of guy that will attempt to extract a chuckle out of it, and when — at first — he doesn’t, Cook will do what he always does: Raise the decibel level on his metaphorical “Freebird” plea over and over until he’s wills you into laughter — not because you find it particularly funny, but because you just want him to shut the fuck up and move on to the next joke, which he will no doubt spittle-scream in your face until you finally submit to the force of his volume. Seriously, look no further than his “Chicken Sangwich” bit, in which he refers to a “sandwich” as a “sangwich” no less than five times in less than a two-minute span.
But I will give him this: He’s a very impressive enunciator.
And though he is given more screen time than anyone else in Employee of the Month, the star attraction isn’t really Dane, or even Dax Shepard (who I do find intermittently amusing, just not here), but the manufactured product(s) of Joe Simpson, i.e., Jessica’s cleavage, or what I like to euphemistically refer to as “Papa’s Bears,” which are pushed up and strapped onto Goldilocks with what appears to be industrial-strength adhesive. The entire premise of Employee of the Month, of course, is a competition between Zack (Cook) and Vince (Shepard) over who will win a date with Amy’s (Simpson) breasts by securing the title of “Employee of the Month.” And, really, what could be more 21st century post-modern than the “woman-as-trophy” conceit? I just think it’s fantastic that director Greg Coolidge (Sorority Boys) finds new and exciting ways to infantilize women, objectify them as mounds of flesh one can rest upon a counter, and then make them appear bubbly and intellectually deficient, thereby affording the men in the audience an opportunity to feel smarter by comparison. I mean, really, isn’t that the entire basis for Jessica Simpson? Indignify her with knee-high boots and low-cut, nipply, see-through tops and give her vacuous dialogue that she can deliver while batting her eyelashes, and then allow men to figuratively pull out their penises and engage in medieval cockfights (or ring-offs at a cash register, here) over a woman who will interminably make them feel intellectually superior because the victor has been awarded the literal booby prize? When it comes right down to it, isn’t that why men enjoyed “Newlyweds”? For its ability to reaffirm the male’s dominant status in 22-minute increments?
Granted, many of you are wondering what the hell I’m talking about — why bother attacking a goddamn romantic comedy with absolutely no cultural pretensions. And you’d be right. Employee of the Month is no more an anti-feminist screed than Jackass Number 2 is homosexual propaganda. It’s really just a stupid movie. But Employee of the Month is so insufferably goddamn boring that I’m left with little else to discuss.
Certainly, the retail environment is a ripe premise, and one that has been relatively untouched, save for some minor exploration in The Good Girl and a superficial once-over in 40-Year-Old Virgin. And given the large segment of the population that has actually spent time ringing up soda pop and jerky, you’d imagine there’d be a built-in audience for this kind of film (I, myself, could ring up 16.1 items per minute during my college days — take that, Justin Timberlake).
Unfortunately, Employee is not an Office Space-type examination of the retail culture, replete with assistant-manager caricatures, break-room banality, employee theft (the best part of any retail job) or awkward customer interactions (there is nothing more uncomfortable than ringing up a man in a suit, who comes in at midnight to buy KY Jelly and flavored condoms [ribbed for her pleasure] and hopes that by throwing in a gallon of milk, you won’t notice). All Employee of the Month needed was just a few Ricky Gervais flourishes to fuel it through, but all we get instead is Dane Cook on roller skates, Dax Shepard doing a circus act at register three, and — of course — “Papa’s Bears,” which (by remaining silent) actually possess considerably more talent than the person to whom they are attached.
Simpson here plays Amy, the new cashier who — rumor has it — has a sexual proclivity for Employees of the Month. Vince, a leather-wearing asshole who drives a ‘81 Honda, has won the award 17 months in a row, and needs only one more victory to attain some sort of checker immortality, which comes with a “newish” bottom-tier American sedan. Zack, a stock boy who lives with his grandmother, has his own proclivity, this one for large-chested women who speak slowly and in one-sentence segments while looking afar at what must be cue cards. So, Zack and Vince duke it out in a series of spectacularly unfunny ways, like rescuing a missing child who shoots tennis balls at their genitalia (didn’t I see this last week in School for Scoundrels?) or by racing through the store to see who can get to a clean up on aisle 17 first. And whoever wins Employee of the Month, presumably will also win a date with two pounds of silicone.
The supporting co-workers, however, are the only ones privileged with the occasional amusing line — Andy Dick, in particular, is almost tolerable as the half-blind dolt who works in the optical section. Harland Williams (Dumb and Dumber) and Efren Ramirez (Napoleon Dynamite) supply their familiar shtick, which occasionally manages not to be grating. But it says about all you need to know that the line that got the most laughs was this one, directed at Ramirez, “I thought you said you were Mexican, not Puerto Rican.” And I don’t even know what the hell that’s supposed to mean. Still, I suppose all is not lost: There was an emasculating dwarf (Danny Woodburn) and a closeted manager (Tim Bagley) who liked to mate male action figures. Ha!
So, you see: The only way to pull anything even mildly interesting out of Employee of the Month is to mine its nonexistent cultural overtones. And, I suppose, in that way, Jessica Simpson even makes me feel smarter. Thanks, Lionsgate Films!
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives in a blue house with his wife in a hippie colony/college town in upstate New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.