Office Space

Anyone who has had the displeasure of sitting in a prefabricated office cubicle with no view and the hum of the florescent overhead lights sucking the very soul out of you will identify with an even appreciate the humor of “Office Space.”


The first live-action film from “Beavis & Butt-Head” creator Mike Judge, “Office Space” is an intermittently funny and occasionally hilarious poke in the ribs at corporate America. As writer, Judge creates familiar situations and characters. As director, Judge takes the familiar and tweaks it enough to give the film an identity all its own.

Office comedies are nothing new, with “9 to 5” and “Working Girl” immediately coming to mind. The territory is ripe for parody, and Judge finds plenty to make fun of in “Office Space.” Based on their prior experiences in corporate America, each audience member will have a different reaction to the film.

There’s something to please every taste in “Office Space,” a film that celebrates sophomoric behavior without becoming sophomoric itself. Indeed, Judge saves the film from being nothing more than a brainless comedy. “Office Space” is much smarter than that.

I once had the privilege of working phone sales for a charity once. They placed us in little cubicles with just a phone, some paperwork, a desk and a chair. Our job was to keep cold calling people trying to solicit a donation. I arrived at the job at 8 a.m., and by noon I quit. I couldn’t take it anymore. It drove me nuts.

That’s what happens to the characters in “Office Space,” especially young, likeable Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston of “Swingers”). He hates his job programming computers at Initech. Trapped in a lifeless, colorless gray cubicle, Peter works diligently on the Y2K problem.

His professional and personal life suck. He has an anorexic girlfriend who insists they see a hypno-therapist, a boss who speaks in the sort of monotone voice that would drive lesser men to kill him, and an apartment with walls so thin that his neighbor knows his every move.

In order to get a grasp on his growing apathy, Peter agrees to see the hypno-therapist. Unfortunately, the hypno-therapist dies in the middle of Peter’s session, leaving him in a trance. Now Peter could care less about work, and even fluffs off an important weekend assignment.

Instead, he pursues local restaurant waitress Joanne (Jennifer Aniston), who is having work problems of her own. Joanne works at one of those theme restaurants, and has an anal retentive boss who insists that she wear her quota for “flair” on her costume. Think Bobby McGee’s by way of TGIF.

While Peter regains his peace of mind, his lack of enthusiasm at the office irritates his boss (a wonderful Gary Cole) yet intrigues the corporate bean counters trying to trim some of the office fat. In one of the film’s funniest and well written moments, Peter tells it like it is to the corporate hatchet men, and instead of getting canned for his disrespect, finds himself promoted.

Which is unfortunate, because that leads the film down another path altogether. Instead of solely focusing on office politics, Judge whips up a computer crime caper that doesn’t live up to the film’s first half.

When Peter learns that his office mates Michael Bolton (David Herman, getting plenty of mileage out of the “famous singer” joke) and Samir (Ajay Naidu, playing a character with one of those Indian last names that no one can pronounce) will be canned to make way for his new promotion, he joins them in a scheme to rip off the company through a computer virus (they got the idea from “Superman 3”).

This leads to all sorts of silly moments that don’t add up to a whole lot, and make you yearn for the corporate punishment of the first half. The cast couldn’t be better. Livingston is delightful as Peter, whose good looks and deadpan comic timing are the film’s backbone.

David Herman (from “Mad TV”) and Ajay Naidu are excellent accomplices in crime, while Jennifer Aniston is nice in a non-consequential role. Gary Cole has the corporate drone down to a annoying patter, and that’s a compliment.

Then there’s Stephen Root (Jimmy James on “News Radio”) as Milton, the office doormat. I’ve seen Root in numerous shows and movies, and he looks so pathetic here that I didn’t even recognize him. With his thick-rimmed coke bottle glasses and red splotches dotting his face, Root perfectly embodies the office nerd who gets pushed to the point of no return.

The best running gag is watching poor Milton’s desk get pushed further and further into a corner, eventually ending up in the basement. That’s just one of many observant bits of humor in Judge’s script. How can you not laugh as Judge apes a gangster rap music video by allowing his main characters to take out their frustrations on an office copying machine? Or when poor Richard tries to make some headway during his morning commute, only to be outpaced by an old man using a walker.

While it’s not perfect or hilarious, “Office Space” does manage to bring a smile to the face of anyone who has ever been in corporate hell. It’s not as rambunctious as “9 to 5” nor was sweet as “Working Girl,” yet “Office Space” manages to tap into the pulse of office workers and their pet peeves.

CORPORATE PUNISHMENT

OFFICE SPACE

Ron Livingston, Stephen Root, Gary Cole, Jennifer Aniston, David Herman, Ajay Naidu, Diedrich Bader and John C. McGinley in a film directed by Mike Judge. Rated R. 89 Min.

LARSEN RATING: $5



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