Anchor Bay // 2011 // 93 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // June 10th, 2012
He got promoted. They got demoted. They'll get even.
Demoted is a film with many weaknesses, but one in particular crushes any hope that the film might be a tolerable viewing experience: we end up rooting for the wrong characters. The movie aspires to be the next Office Space, but it fails to tap into that film's potent outrage at the mundane horrors of cubicle life. Instead, it's a pity party for two thoroughly unlikable tools who deserve far worse than what they actually receive.
Our protagonists are Rodney (Michael Vartan, Alias) and Mike (Sean Astin, Rudy), both of whom are very successful salesmen who work for a large tire company. They're best pals with their hard-partying boss Bob (Robert Klein, Two Weeks Notice), and the trio can frequently be spotted living it up at a local strip club. Due to their tight relationship with their employer, Rodney and Mike feel empowered to treat their other co-workers like garbage. They particularly enjoy bullying the mild-mannered Ken Castro (David Cross, Arrested Development), eagerly devising new ways to humiliate and mock him each day.
However, the tables finally turn when Bob dies and Ken is (inexplicably) named head of the company. Ken initially contemplates firing Rodney and Mike, but he finally opts to simply demote them to secretaries. Now that Rodney and Mike are at the bottom of the corporate ladder, they slowly but surely begin to realize just how badly they've treated their co-workers over the years. So begins the twofold mission of learning to act like nice guys and striking back with a vengeance at Ken.
There's a particularly grating frat boy mentality that runs through Demoted, a certain sense that the brands of chauvinism and bullying these characters engage in are supposed to be regarded as kind of adorable. Even during the early scenes, we're meant to laugh right along with Rodney and Mike at Ken's struggles to cope with their cruel pranks, because Ken is clearly a square and a loser. Ken is easily the film's most sympathetic character early on, but the film's complete failure to recognize that fact is at the root of its downfall. The film successfully makes us despise Rodney and Mike in its opening scenes, and their half-hearted attempts at being nice people aren't nearly enough to redeem them for being such jerks.
To compensate for the fact that the main characters simply aren't likable on their own, the filmmakers attempt to tip the scales by unconvincingly transforming Ken into a monster. Though he's merely put-upon early in the movie and filled with righteous vengeance once he comes to power, at approximately the halfway point Ken suddenly transforms into a genuinely awful human being. He spews horrific sexism on a regular basis, makes the work environment a living hell and generally does his best to earn the hatred of all of his employees. Some of this might have been funny if the film had found a way to demonstrate the transition from mild-mannered meekness to full-throttle villainy, but as presented it simply feels like a preposterous cheat and a betrayal of the movie's best character.
Still, one has to give Cross credit for remaining interesting whenever he's onscreen (no matter how poorly the script treats him). Almost all of the other characters are simply dull, and most of them are thrown into tedious subplots. Both of the leads are given romantic subplots, both of which strive to include as many romantic comedy cliches into the mix as possible (you'd better believe we're gonna get an obligatory "temporary break-up for some stupid reason" twist before this thing is over with). Ron White (Horrible Bosses) actually seems to be enjoying himself immensely as Rodney's sadistic new superior (and gets to spew one of the more memorable profanities the film has to offer), but he's stuck in a storyline which just gets dumber as it goes along (concluding with a redneck variation on The Most Dangerous Game, of all things).
The DVD transfer is okay, but the level of detail could be a little sharper than it is. For a new movie, it looks awfully soft at times. Otherwise, there are no issues of note. Audio is a bit more problematic, as the balance between the dialogue and music can sometimes be wildly uneven and a handful of conversations sound a little distorted. It's a sloppy, amateurish mix. There are no supplements on the disc, as this is a film which has been quietly been given a straight-to-DVD release after sitting on the shelf for a couple of years (it's not hard to see why).
Demoted strives to be an ambitious comedy (it draws from Office Space and M*A*S*H in particular), but all it delivers is a painfully unappealing imitation of vastly better movies. It's a considerable mess which should be avoided by all but David Cross' most loyal fans.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R