Director Fouad Mikati’s Operation Endgame throws a variety of strange and frequently pointless twists at you, but the general story is this: What if there was an office — a drab, windowless, glumly lit administrative hellhole, filled with full-blown psychotics trying to kill each other? Before the building explodes? That’s the essence of the film. There’s a top-secret government organization called The Factory, comprised of two factions of operatives, the Alpha and Omega teams. From what I could tell from the film’s somewhat cryptic opening exposition, both groups work as spooks and killers for the US government, but actually spend most of their time working against each other.
Regardless, the film takes place on the first day of a new recruit, Fool (their codenames are all based on Tarot cards), played capably by Joe Anderson (who, after seeing him in The Crazies, I’ve realized is an absolute friggin’ chameleon). Fool is the typical nervously cheerful new recruit, thrust into a cadre of jaded, morally ambivalent at best raving maniacs who’ve been doing the dirty work for far too long. There’s Judgement (Ving Rhames), who spends entirely too much time working his codename into his daily repartee, Empress (Ellen Barkin, who is still fucking rocking the sexy at age at 56), a brassy, cuss-throwing capital-B bitch who would rather just kill everyone rather than deal with their bullshit, Magician (Adam Scott), a smarmy prick, Heirophant (Emilie de Ravin), a girlish seductress who is exceedingly damaged and dangerous, and High Priestess (Maggie Q), the workmanlike deputy of the Omegas who’s losing her taste for the action.
Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the outstanding Michael Hitchcock and Tim Bagley as Neal and Carl, the nebbish dweebs who work in the surveillance room — a pair of nerdlinger seat jockeys who provide a running commentary as they haplessly watch all of the mayhem on their security monitors.
There’s also Bob Odenkirk as Emperor, and Zach Galifinakis as Hermit, the retired killer who now works as the janitor, but is the most dangerous (and weird) of the group. However, true stars of the film are former “Daily Show” correspondent Rob Corddry’s Chariot, a virulently sarcastic drunkard (he spends his time berating everyone in his path, and drinking whiskey out of a pistol-shaped bottle), and surprisingly, Odette Yustman’s Temperence. They’re all total lunatics, so crazy that allegedly to become a member of either team, “they make you kill a puppy.” Seriously. Don’t worry, no puppy-killing is shown.
The film focuses on a) trying to figure out who among them killed their leader, while dealing with the implementation of Operation Endgame, which is essentially a directive for the two teams to try to kill each other off, all while they try to find a hidden bomb. Again — reasons are not relevant. Or rather, they’re given, but they’re fucking stupid — something to do with a past botched operation, a new government regime (it’s set against the backdrop of the Obama administration), a slippery political statement about the future of military and covert ops, and… oh, let’s not bother. Once one dumps the pointless explanations, the film is actually rather fun. No one is armed, as they’re all forced to surrender their firearms whenever they check in, so the film delights the viewer by having the cast off each other in gorily creative fashion using whatever tools they find around the office.
That’s where the film succeeds in spades. Think of it as Office Space meets Final Destination. Give screenwriter Sam Levinson credit for coming up with some truly innovative, not to mention goddamn brutal ways for them to hack each other up. Death by paper shredder, chair leg, pencil-stabbing, staple removers, and flaming four-iron (to name but a few) — all accompanied by gushing blood and screaming brawls. It is some seriously grisly, twisted shit, and it is fucking hilarious. If, you know, you roll that way (which I do). The other bonus is that the story provides absolutely no idea as to who’s going to survive — don’t go thinking the big names will come out at the end — maybe they will, maybe they’ll get a pair of scissors in the brain pan.
Its second saving grace is the dialogue, which is snappy, obnoxious, and clever as hell. Corrdry’s Chariot gets the lion’s share, proclaiming upon the realization that the facility is locked down, “Hey, you know what, you guys have been great, but I’m gonna go drink myself to death.” And when Barkin’s Empress tells him to shut the fuck up, he responds with a gleeful, “chug my cock.” It’s mainly his delivery, which is spot-on, perfectly capturing the dead-end, giving up at life mentality that you see in movies about jaded corporate types — except these ones beat each other to death. Similarly, Barkin is simply fantastic, a sniping, scathing psychopath who is essentially a serial murderer in a sex bomb’s body.
Where the film fails is the story, which is pretty dumb. It shoots for complex and twisty, but succeeds only in puzzling and curiously aimless. The twists come too late are too abruptly brought to light and lack sufficient background, and there’s no weight too them. Instead, they feel like tacked on u-turns that were thrown in to try to create some drama in what is, in its essence, 90 minutes of purposelessly bloody cat-and-mouse. So while the filler parts — the interplay between the characters, the violent deaths, are amusing — the sum of those parts ends up being ultimately unfulfilling.
Still, at the end of the day I can’t say I didn’t enjoy Operation Endgame. It was an entertaining hour and a half, even if I can’t say that it’s actually a good movie. It’s got a shoddily developed plot and any effort expended in trying to figure out the point is better spent drinking from your whiskey gun (which I’m totally getting now). But while the whole is rather disappointing, some of the parts are entertaining enough to make it worth grabbing on Instant Watch or when it shows up on your drunken late-night cable perusing.
TK writes about music and movies. He enjoys playing with dogs, raising the dead, and tacos. You can email him here.