OFFICE SPACE (1999)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 29 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language and brief Sexuality

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Directed by: Mike Judge

Written by: Mike Judge

Starring: Ron Livingston, Jennifer Aniston, Stephen Root, Gary Cole, David Herman, Ajay Naidu, John C. McGinley & Paul Willson

Have you ever been stuck in slow-moving traffic on your way to work? Have you ever endured the insufferable ramblings of a dickhead boss or had to put up with inane antics from annoying coworkers? Are you sick of wasting away your precious time on filling out menial paperwork? If you answered “yes” to any of those questions and are feeling fed up with life in general, then you might just be overdue for a viewing of Mike Judge’s OFFICE SPACE. In his first live-action feature film, Judge weaves everyday annoyances into a hilarious, relatable workplace comedy.

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Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) is a bored programmer stuck in his cubicle job at Initech. On a daily basis, Peter finds himself beset by constant criticism from eight different bosses, loaded with frustrating paperwork, and depressed by sheer boredom. In an effort to combat his depression, Peter visits a hypnotherapist and is put into a deep state of relaxation…only to have the therapist drop dead before he can bring Peter back to the real world. Now invigorated with a new lease on life, Peter decides that he’ll do whatever he wants with little regard to the consequences at work and soon finds himself flourishing with upper management. When the company decides to fire Peter’s hard-working friends Michael Bolton (David Herman) and Samir Nagheenanajar (Ajay Naidu), Peter decides that the best course of action is to rebel against Initech…much to the dismay of his waitress girlfriend Joanna (Jennifer Aniston).

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OFFICE SPACE was hardly a financial success at the box office, earning back two million over its 10 million dollar budget. However, the film soon found a cult following after its disappointing stint in theaters. Though details of the cubicle environment are exaggerated for comedic effect, OFFICE SPACE holds a lot of truth in its perfectly paced 89-minute running time. Judge based the script off a series of animated shorts which in turn came from experiences at his first job. Ties to real-world office politics and stupidity raise this film above simply being a comedy, making the story far more relatable and the laughs even bigger as a result. The grounded sense of humor lends itself to running gags about TPS reports, Michael Bolton’s music, a malfunctioning printer and a red stapler. Though those topics might not sound especially funny, Judge transforms them into something truly special.

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Another great narrative technique that Judge employs is a careful use of subplots. There are a handful of smaller storylines in OFFICE SPACE that wouldn’t make features by themselves, but blend naturally into the movie’s main plot. Joanna’s flair feud with her smug restaurant manager will likely cherished by anyone who’s worked in food service. Peter and Joanna’s blooming relationship comes off as a believable love story and doesn’t distract from the workplace comedy angle. The film’s best subplot easily belongs to company vice president Bill Lumbergh’s (Gary Cole) constant harassment of bespectacled weirdo Milton Waddams (Stephen Root). This was ripped straight out of Judge’s early animated shorts. Cole’s passive-aggressive boss and Root’s ginger-haired oddball serve as the film’s two biggest highlights.

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Ron Livingston has never struck me as an acting talent to be reckoned with, but he perfectly embodies everyman Peter. This protagonist’s earlier moments keep the viewer in an appropriately frustrated mindset and then we feel elated with him as he begins to enjoy his day-to-day life more. For my money, Peter Gibbons will likely be the best performance we ever see from Livingston. Jennifer Aniston, who was in her fifth season of FRIENDS at this point, is great as Peter’s not-so-ambitious love interest. Joanna is a kung-fu loving girl who just wants to live her life to the best of her ability. She also gives some very simple, but true life advice during her final scene.

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Other colorful supporting characters include the Bobs, a pair of corporate “housecleaners” played by Paul Willson and an especially hilarious John C. McGinley. These two lay-off managers don’t take up a ton of screen time and make the most of their scenes. Ajay Naidu hasn’t starred in too many noteworthy movie roles, but he steals a number of moments as good-natured Samir. He also pulls off a brief breakdance move that cracks me up every time I see it. Finally, David Herman has befallen a similar fate to Naidu in that he’s mainly a supporting role and hasn’t received a ton of big screen time (aside from the first three seasons of MAD TV). That’s truly a shame, because he has plenty of great moments as profanity-filled, self-loathing Michael Bolton. It’s also worth noting that this movie’s rap soundtrack makes scenes of these white-collar rebels even funnier with its obvious contrast.

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There are many reasons why OFFICE SPACE has spawned such a notable reputation and cult following since it’s so-so theatrical reception. This film resonates with plenty of pissed off employees and comedy lovers simply for its honest, unblinking nature at stupid office politics, crappy workplaces and everyday annoyances. Judge’s script feels genuine and hilarious, never going too far over-the-top to be completely unbelievable or non-relatable. The many subplots ensure that there’s never a laugh-free scene on the screen, while the main storyline is likely to leave the viewer with an upbeat attitude afterwards. OFFICE SPACE is not only one of the best comedies to come out of the 90’s, it’s one of my all-time favorite comedies! If nothing else, this film is sure to cure a case of the Mondays.

Grade: A+

CHAIN OF FOOLS (2000)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 38 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence, Sexuality and Language

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Directed by: Pontus Lowenhielm & Patrick von Krusenstjerna

Written by: Bix Skahill

Starring: Steve Zahn, Salma Hayek, Jeff Goldblum, David Cross, Elijah Wood, Tom Wilkinson, David Hyde Pierce, Kevin Corrigan, Orlando Jones, Lara Flynn Boyle & Craig Ferguson

Slapstick humor, witty dialogue, bullets and ancient Chinese coins all come together in CHAIN OF FOOLS. Utilizing a style that’s more than a little reminiscent of Tarantino and Guy Ritchie, this directorial debut was dumped into a handful of theaters upon its release and then found slightly more success in other countries. There a lot of qualities to enjoy in this under-the-radar, oddball heist comedy. These include: an ensemble cast of quirky characters, clever intersecting storylines, plenty of goofy laughs, and a catchy alternative rock soundtrack. It may have a few noticeable flaws, but CHAIN OF FOOLS is a blast of dark laughs, unique characters and smart plot twists.

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Thomas Kresk (Steve Zahn) is a down-on-his luck barber, whose life drastically changes when shady criminal Avnet (Jeff Goldblum) walks into his shop and a simple haircut doesn’t go as planned for both the criminal and the barber. With the aid of his best friend Andy (David Cross), a mentally unhinged scout leader, Kresk finds himself in possession of three rare Chinese coins that are worth a fortune. Things get more complicated when a poorly educated gangster (Kevin Corrigan) enters the picture, along with corrupt rich guy Bollingsworth (Tom Wilkinson), teenage hitman Mikey (Elijah Wood), and sexy cop/Playboy model Kolko (Salma Hayek). Soon enough, Kresk and Andy find their get-rich-quick scheme is going up in smoke and will be lucky to make it out alive…let alone with the coins in hand.

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CHAIN’s main draw comes from the titular fools themselves, as portrayed by a large ensemble cast of big names and familiar faces. As Kresk, Steven Zahn is playing his usual typecast lovable loser…except with a bad mullet and barber jacket. Jeff Goldblum is clearly having a blast as straight-faced, twitchy Avnet and effortlessly steals the spotlight from the other cast members around him. Part of the reason that Goldblum winds up with so many good laughs is that he plays his part seriously, while everyone around him is goofing off like there’s no end. It’s like throwing a GODFATHER character into a wacky spoof and simply witnessing what follows.

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Even though Goldblum makes off like a bandit with a bag full of scenes, David Cross steals most of the show as borderline psychotic, socially awkward timber scout Andy. Cross frequently had me laughing and small details about his character get funnier the more I think about them. On a slightly lesser note, Tom Wilkinson is too exaggerated as Bollingsworth, while Elijah Wood’s angsty teenage hitman Mikey receives a few memorable moments. Salma Hayek is essentially playing the bland romantic interest and occasionally makes her way into other scenes as her clueless detective slowly gets close to the truth. David Hyde Pierce shows up for two minutes as Bollingsworth’s personal assistant, while Orlando Jones seems wasted as a transvestite caught up in the illegal proceedings.

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CHAIN OF FOOLS keeps itself interesting through a non-linear narrative that frequently takes us from one character to another and then back and forth in time. There are flashbacks within flashbacks, but these sudden shifts aren’t necessarily hard to follow. The film packs a lot of plotlines and characters into slightly over 90 minutes, so there’s never a dull moment…even if the main story can seem a tad cluttered. Indeed, some of this movie’s laughs are a direct result of flashbacks and reveals that slowly lay out the comical details of a character’s past. One of the film’s funniest scenes was a well-executed flashback that served as a big long visual joke. Even though the jumbled timeline seems integral to its charm, CHAIN OF FOOLS would likely remain just as entertaining if it were told in a straightforward manner. It’s a well-written movie that occasionally reaches beyond its grasp.

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In addition to feeling slightly overcrowded, CHAIN OF FOOLS has a lot of style, one might argue a bit too much. These “cool” details include: cartoony sound effects (lending to the over-the-top slapstick), title cards that introduce each main character with a tagline, and narration from Zahn’s bad barber. A couple of these touches (mainly the overuse of sound effects and title cards that add nothing to the story) seem a bit forced and awkward, detracting from some of the enjoyment packed into the fast-paced 98 minutes. Still, the pros far outweigh the cons in this quirky crime-comedy. The writing is clever. The characters are unique. It’s an all-around entertaining, funny film in the vein of Tarantino and Guy Ritchie. If that sounds up your alley, then CHAIN OF FOOLS will likely satisfy your cinematic craving.

Grade: B

EVOLUTION (2001)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 41 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Crude and Sexual Humor, and for Sci-Fi Action

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Directed by: Ivan Reitman

Written by: David Diamond, David Weissman & Don Jakoby

Starring: David Duchovny, Julianne Moore, Orlando Jones, Seann William Scott, Ted Levine, Ethan Suplee, Ty Burrell & Dan Aykroyd

EVOLUTION is a movie that can be summed up in three words: GHOSTBUSTERS with aliens. Don’t believe me? This movie is even directed by the same guy who brought both GHOSTBUSTER films to the screen. He’s treading familiar cinematic waters with a fresh cast and a different monster. I don’t distinctly remember the level of excitement that this film had upon release (I was 10 years old at the time), but I do remember it being a regular sleepover movie (at least, for me). So it had some sort of impact on kids and adults at the time, going as far as to receive a short-lived animated series as well.

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When a meteor crashes into Earth and winds up at the bottom of an 80-foot crater, it appears to be the discovery that Ira Kane and Harry Block, two college professors and friends, have been waiting for. They cut off a sample of the space rock and find that there’s extraterrestrial life contained in some goo from the meteor. What’s even more peculiar is that this goo seems to be evolving at a rapid rate with single-celled organisms becoming worms in the space of three days. Soon enough, the U.S. military arrives to steal Ira and Harry’s discovery. This annoyance becomes the least of their problems, because hostile alien creatures begin to invade nearby areas and attack civilians. It’s up to Harry, Ira, Wayne (an idiot fireman-in-training) and Allison (a clumsy scientist) to take down the alien menace before we go extinct…

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EVOLUTION has a number of famous faces in the cast, but these were the early days for a few of them. David Duchovny was coming fresh off of X-FILES and that seems to be the sole reason for his presence. As the main lead, he’s bland and delivers his lines in a wooden unenthused sort of way. Starring alongside him is MADTV regular Orlando Jones, who easily stands out as the best part of this movie. Jones nails nearly every one-liner he receives and has a hilarious highlight as scientists try to capture an alien bug inside of his colon (without the aid of lubricant). Jones never went on to have the career that he really deserved, but he’s easily the best part of this whole film. Ted Levine and a (far younger) Ty Burrell serve as inept military officers. They aren’t played for laughs, but do play off each other well as dickhead human antagonists. Seann William Scott (coming off AMERICAN PIE) is hit-or-miss as the would-be fireman. Dan Aykroyd is sadly underutilized as the city’s Mayor, while Julianne Moore is wasted on a one-joke character. The joke is that she’s clumsy and the movie gets all the mileage it can out of her tripping, dropping stuff, and running into things.

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The story itself is predictable. You won’t have a hard time at all guessing how everything will play out, but that’s doesn’t necessarily make the whole film bad as the encounters with the aliens themselves are fun. Some of the effects haven’t aged well over time, while others look impressive. One monster coming out of a lake is Syfy level quality of CGI these days, but looked pretty cool at the time this film was made. The alien designs are also creative with a green-skinned dog-like creature, winged dinosaurs, and blue-skinned apes being highlights. The movie too often relies on cheap, obvious humor, but even these moments can get still get a few laughs out of me.

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EVOLUTION is pretty much a shameless remake of GHOSTBUSTERS under a different name, complete with a climax involving characters wearing matching jump-suits to take down a giant otherworldly menace. The cast is a mixed bag with certain actors being highlights and others being wasted on bland characters. The aliens themselves are cool to look at and the scenes of our heroes fighting them are enjoyable. I won’t deny that my vision of this film might be slightly clouded by a nostalgic haze (I watched this a lot when I was a kid), but EVOLUTION stands as an entertaining guilty pleasure.

Grade: B-

BEDAZZLED (2000)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 33 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sex-Related Humor, Language and some Drug Content

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Directed by: Harold Ramis

Written by: Larry Gelbart, Harold Ramis & Peter Tolan

Starring: Brendan Fraser, Elizabeth Hurley, Frances O’Connor, Orlando Jones, Paul Adelstein & Toby Huss

BEDAZZLED is definitely a product of its time. This 2000 American remake of the 1967 British film is a quick and to the point time-killer. The story is a comedic take on the Faustian legend and the whole film is a bit of a guilty pleasure for me. If watching Brendan Fraser as a guy who’s selling his soul to a satanic Elizabeth Hurley for seven faulty wishes sounds like it might float your boat for 90 minutes, then by all means, you might enjoy this.

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Elliot Richards is a pathetic loser struggling to impress his asshole co-workers and woo the seven-year crush of his life, Allison. When realization hits that Allison doesn’t even know who he is, Elliot meets a sexy stranger at a bar. This seductress makes the seemingly impossible offer that if Elliot were to sign a contract to sell his soul (something that he doesn’t use anyway), she will grant him seven wishes that could make his wildest dreams come true. Turns out that the sexy woman is Satan and this deal is very real. Elliot tries to use these wishes to his advantage and make Allison fall in love with him, but there’s a catch with each wish. After all, this is a deal with the Devil. With time and wishes running out, Elliot tries to figure out a way to win over Allison and save his soul from eternal damnation.

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The script for BEDAZZLED, more often than not, plays as flimsy excuse for skit-like segments. The main plot device is Elliot making poorly worded wishes and each scene of that wish playing out is a repeat of the same joke over and over. Elliot’s wish seems to be working wonders, but something goes horribly wrong to his chagrin. My favorite is a tie between him wishing for rich & powerful or intelligent & well-spoken. However, two that fall very flat are him wishing to be emotionally sensitive and another featuring Fraser as a dim-witted basketball player. While my favorite segments do pack a nice punch in the reveal of what is exactly wrong with his new situation, the two flat sequences rely on dusty jokes and stretch for a tad too long. Fraser is likeable as Elliot and Elizabeth Hurley is clearly having a blast as Satan. Though both their characters can be annoying from time to time, they are enjoyable enough.

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Despite relying on a repetitive formula of Fraser making a wishes that go terribly wrong and the overall plot being predictable, BEDAZZLED remains pretty funny in parts. Sure, there are moments that rely too heavily on so-so CGI (that wasn’t even too impressive at the time). Hurley’s wise-cracking can get to be a bit much and Fraser tries way too hard to be funny in specific moments. When he’s a basketball player, his comedic delivery is off and the entire sequence is just unbearably lame. The conclusion to the overarching story is as cookie-cutter and cliché as one might imagine in a film of this type, but satisfying enough when all things are considered.

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If nothing else, BEDAZZLED is a guilty pleasure. It heavily relies on a steady formula, uses clichés around every corner, and doesn’t do anything that you probably haven’t seen before in a dozen better comedies of this type. It never quite nails a dark comedy vibe and gets so sappy in moments that it’s bound to cause some eye-rolling from the viewer, but there are still creative highlights. Elizabeth Hurley and Brendan Fraser do have a fair share of funny moments, but don’t necessarily pull off anything special either. BEDAZZLED is most likely enjoyable for those who might be a tad bit intrigued and go to the effort of tracking this one down.

Grade: C+

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