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Employee of the Month

(2006) * Pg-13
103 min. Lionsgate Films. Cast: Wendy Mirts, Fiona Gubelmann, Jamie Fox (II), Lucas Nease, Matt Dillon.

Popular stand-up comic Dane Cook sets aside his loudmouth frat boy act to play a mean-spirited slob in cheapie comedy Employee of the Month. Though that may sound like a horizontal career move, Cook's the star of his new film, whereas he only played a supporting role in previous film Waiting.... Like Waiting..., Employee of the Month is a snarky comedy predicated on the supposed drama of the hierarchy at a pitiable working-class workplace.

In this case, the setting is a warehouse store called Super Club. There, the dregs of society fill jobs from box boy up to manager (overseen by—shudder—"corporate"). Cock-of-the-walk "alpha male of the store" Vince (Dax Shepard of Without a Paddle) has claimed seventeen consecutive "Employee of the Month" titles; one more and the head cashier will be in the "EoM" hall of fame and win a new car. Cook plays box boy and confirmed slacker Zack, who becomes convinced that he can only win the affections of new cashier Amy (Jessica Simpson) by showing up that jerk Vince and becoming...well, you know.

The setting might seem to offer a sliver of hope that Employee of the Month might punch in some satire about consumer culture, but writer-director Greg Coolidge (and co-screenwriters Don Calame and Chris Conroy) gums away toothlessly, showing folks grabbing for jumbo-size cases of condom and beer to stoke unironic audience cheers (and, in an ill-advised allusion to a Pulitzer-Prize-winning David Mamet play about cutthroat businessmen, naming the manager and his little-person "big brother" Glen Gary and Glen Ross, respectively). The sharpest ideas depict the managers infantilizing the employees by awarding gold stars for good work, but it's hardly guffaw-inducing, or even fresh, is it?

Cook's usual persona is annoying, but with his volume turned down here, he's even more of a zero: vaguely credible, but frankly boring. Shepard fares marginally better, amusing himself with Cocktail-style checkouts and funny-awkward verbal faux-pas. As Zack's circle of friends—who use a fork-lift to access a secret clubhouse hidden up in and between the aisles—Harland Williams, Andy Dick, and Brian George try and fail to save the picture. Surprisingly, Efren Ramirez of Napoleon Dynamite provides the picture's best physical comedy (we're talking about mere seconds here).

Ramirez and Danny Woodburn (Mickey from Seinfeld) submit themselves as the butts of jokes regarding their respective ethnicity and size, and there's the old-standby grandma—with whom Zack lives—to provide more lame comic "opportunities." Oh, what will she say next? Tee hee. For those who like their Maxim magazine to move, Coolidge parades the plastic-fantastic Simpson in a variety of astonishing outfits that allow her breasts to do all of her acting for her (I'm trying not to imagine James Lipton asking the cleavage, "What sound do you love?"). In hindsight, the sheer bulk of the supporting cast reflects a lack of confidence in Cook.

And it's all in service of a retrograde "winner gets the girl" plot, garnished with not one but two motivational speeches for Cook (cross reference Animal House, Stripes, etc.) and various wan attempts to teach the jerky villain and the slightly-less-jerky hero life lessons. Employee of the Month will cost you about seven bucks and a couple of hours of your life. Maxim runs about four bucks and a half hour. Sometimes, buying in bulk isn't your best value.

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