Lionsgate // 2004 // 97 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // February 18th, 2005
Congratulations, you're fired!
Employee of the Month sounds like a good idea. It's a black comedy from the same writer/director who brought you Strangers With Candy, Mitch Rouse. I liked that show, and certainly it was witty even when it wasn't ha-ha funny. This film stars Matt Dillon (Wild Things), Christina Applegate (Married With Children), and Steve Zahn (Daddy Day Care). I like those people, and they have talent. It premiered at the ultra-hip Sundance Film Festival, and it looks cute from the box. Sundance Selection? How bad could it be? It looks like something you might grab when the Blockbuster employee announces "It's closing time!," and you've gotta get one more title for the "rent 2 get one free" deal. But, my friend, you may feel ripped off even if it's free. You'd be better off leaving the store without that free title if this is the only choice.
Employee of the Month is the story of a bank manager (Dillon) who has a lousy day. He gets fired from his job, his fianceée (Applegate) breaks off their engagement, and his best pal (Zahn) is calling him out for being a fraud, because he wants to work in corporate America and settle for a nice wife and homestead in the Valley. So what's he to do? How about go crazy nuts, and threaten the boss by waving a firearm in his face for starters? After that I can't tell you much about the plot for two reasons. The first is that there are some twists and turns that you should not know about. The second is that I doubt I could even begin to justify or clarify what happens in the third act without sounding like I've lost my mind. What happens is the movie not only switches gears, but it switches genres. It would be like if Thelma reached over to Louise right before they jump off the cliff, and that damn alien burst out of Susan Sarandon's chest, and Geena Davis had to save the Earth with some help from Jim Carrey as The Grinch. Logic and flow be damned as they pull out the Wild Things guide to script writing in the last twenty minutes. Problem is, they have Matt Dillon on board to remind us of that movie during all the turns, without Kevin's "bacon" flapping in the shower or the promise of Denise Richards and Neve Campbell getting it on to save it. So what could have been an insightful character study about a man in a desperate hour becomes, rather, a parlor trick that grows old fast. None of it makes sense, none of it is justified, and you wonder how big the fan has to be to hold all the crap flung at it by Employee of the Month.
I have an embarrassing admission to make (which should be standard protocol if you've read any other of my reviews). I kind of have a major thing for Christina Applegate, and I can not explain it. It's the only reason I agreed to look at Employee of the Month. I could usually watch her fart the phone book and sit in wonder and awe as I stared at the screen. She hypnotizes me into watching any bad movie just so I can see how she's doing and how she looks. She looks great here, but I don't think her agent is doing her any favors by the looks of this. Come to think of it, nobody in this film should have kept their agent. Matt Dillon is a good guy who has done Gus Van Sant movies as well as gross-out comedy like There's Something About Mary. And Steve Zahn is hilarious in Happy, Texas and anything else you can name with him in it. These three make Employee of the Month pretty bearable to watch for the first two-thirds or so of the movie. Each of them at some point rises above the rather standard script of the first two acts, and gives something a little extra just to prove they are above all of this. It might be fleeting, but Christina, Matt, and Steve still have what it takes to make Employee of the Month seem at least like an okay cable movie. And there is even a small cameo by Dave Foley (Kids In The Hall) that seems kind of funny at one point.
It's really all the director's fault. Mitch Rouse has the balls to pull the rug out from his own cast by taking the story into ludicrous territory that undermines anything that seems to be happening. His writing seems fine at first. Maybe a little heavy-handed, but nothing reprehensible or too badly offensive (except maybe the woman running by on fire, and all the gay jokes in the steam room). I'll even overlook the fact he cast his own wife (Andrea Bendewald, Suddenly Susan) in a major supporting role since she too seems to be on track with the rest of the cast. Then the twists start, and even my love of all things Applegate can't save it. When they tried this with Wild Things it made sense, since the movie was so obviously in B-grade territory to begin with. The twists here take us not to campy giddy highs, but rather into a mind-numbingly illogical mess. There is a fantasy sequence at one point where Matt Dillon's character does something heroic, and it's touching. But when you see the ending you realize it was either impossible for him to have daydreamed that, or somebody was making this crap up when they had no ending. Somebody forgot to finish their script and copped out. It's enough to make you want to bite your own butt to keep from looking at the screen. Seriously, I thought about it.
At least Lions Gate gives us a nice looking transfer to enjoy. It's not perfect, but that comes out of some wacky color tinting probably ordered by the director, who seems to view sepia filters as the ultimate mark of an artist. And there's a nice little sound transfer as well, that would be better if it had any great music or dialogue to deliver. Thankfully there are few extras -- that's actually a good move on the studio's part. Who would want Ms. Applegate giving a running commentary on how she was cajoled and tricked into thinking this might go somewhere? Not me. At least there are some pretty still pictures that I can look at, and a trailer I can watch if I want to skip the whole movie (it gives away some of the twists). Fine package for a grade Z film.
In the end there isn't much to say except that Employee of the Month could be considered okay if you stopped your player with about twenty minutes to go. You'd forget it, but it would have slightly entertained you. As it is, the ending just blows chunks and ruins any goodwill I had towards the cast or the director's previous nice work on Strangers With Candy. I can honestly say, though, that I did not see the twist coming, and neither will you, really. But you'll wish it had never happened. The movie seems to want to say "life is an illusion, and never really what it seems." Mission accomplished in my book, since Employee of the Month is definitely not what it seems at first either. What could have been a nice dark comedy turns into hideous dreck that would be better as a drink coaster than in my DVD player. I'm going to have to do a triple bill of The Sweetest Thing, Wild Things, and Joy Ride to remember why I love these actors. It's not even a "so bad it might be good" entry (coming from the guy who loves Showgirls). No, it's so bad it's painful. The humor is forced, and the twists are poorly done. Even Dave Foley in drag can't save it -- and that, my friends, is the mark of really bad cinema. Christina Applegate kisses another hot blonde, and even that does not save it! Trust me, it's bad.
Guilty of not having an ending, and not having a clue about how to stumble across the finish line. Mitch Rouse is sentenced to having his head placed in an ever-tightening vice grip to make him feel some of the pain of anyone trying to follow the plot of Employee of the Month. Meanwhile, the cast is free to go. Especially one Christina Applegate, whom I forgive even for this mess. I hope she got some cute shoes or something better, like lingerie, with the paycheck for this dreck.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated R
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* Christina Applegate Fan Site