Genius Products // 2004 // 79 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rankins (Retired) // February 16th, 2007
Document shredding, cooked books, and unemployment have never been so much fun.
Truly talented, creative, and visionary filmmakers could mine comedic gold from a "mockumentary" about the desperate plight of the thousands of Americans abandoned to poverty and uncertain futures when megacorporations such as Enron and WorldCom collapsed under the weight of their executives' greed.
Unfortunately, Memron was made by some other people.
This year, over 60,000 employees of the Memron Corporation were fired. This is their story.
In a federal prison somewhere in America, former Memron CEO Kenneth Clay (Michael McShane, Big Trouble), fiddles away his days practicing his golf swing on the penitentiary grounds, even as on the outside, his Italian-born trophy wife Vangella (Claire Forlani, Mystery Men) carries on clandestine affairs and spends what's left of Clay's money. Meanwhile, Clay's toady Justin (David Wiater), one of the handful of Memron functionaries who's still gainfully employed by the bankrupt company ("In six weeks, I've had my job changed twelve times"), spies on his former coworkers on behalf of his disgraced boss.
86% of all Memron employees are now living below the poverty line.
A small but hardy band of ex-Memronites trudges through outplacement training, valiantly striving to move on with life. Among these hapless unfortunates is:
Carl (John Lehr, 10 Items or Less), an accountant whose noxious demeanor and infantile pranks likely made his coworkers delighted to be rid of him. An eternal optimist, Carl busies himself by applying for jobs for which he's completely unqualified (he interviews with a dentist about a hygienist position, though he knows nothing about dentistry), and looking after his chronically depressed, pregnant wife. Carl loves to annoy...
Shelly (Mary Pat Gleason, 13 Going On 30), Carl's former cubicle neighbor -- a dumpy middle-aged woman with a handicapped daughter ("she has a club foot...and emotional problems") living at home. The codependent Shelly brings her therapist, Dr. Shue (Tim Bagley, Will & Grace), with her to each outplacement session. Shelly is mystified by...
Jim (Chris Wells), a systems analyst who's living in his car after selling his house to support his trailer-trash family, who promptly kicked him out after the mortgage was paid off. Jim is nursing an unrequited crush on...
Brenda (Evie Peck), a ditzy communications specialist and compulsive flirt who appears to have bestowed sexual favors on every male in the corporation, and perhaps in the free world. Here's Brenda's guiding philosophy: "My motto in life is, 'Never say no.' Or you can turn it around to the positive, and say that my motto in life is, 'Always say yes.'" Brenda is looked askance upon by...
Janet -- "It's Zha-NAY" (Shirley Prestia, Dharma & Greg) -- a pretentious bureaucrat who formerly served as liaison between management and the labor unions. She's in the process of suing everyone who had any connection with Memron, "including the people who ran the cafeteria." Janet's job-search partner is...
Bruce (Jeffrey Hayenga), a perpetually befuddled actuary with a pathological fear of sage. You know, the herb your mom used to flavor her Thanksgiving stuffing. The only person here who's a bigger idiot than Bruce is...
Tamara (Susan Saunders), who doesn't want to say what her job at Memron was, but one might deduce that she didn't do whatever it was very capably. Tamara can be described as socially challenged, intensely secretive, and just plain weird -- which apparently put her in good company while she was employed at Memron.
Follow along now as this motley assortment of white-collar nonworkers attempts to rebuild their careers, their relationships, and their self-esteem in the wake of their company's monumental downfall.
Only one in ten ex-Memron employees will find a job in the next three months.
Needless to say, things do not proceed well -- for the characters, or for the audience.
One of the greatest crimes a filmmaker can commit is failure to understand the genre in which he or she is working. The folks behind Memron commit this heinous cinematic felony twice. They utterly misjudge what makes this precarious tightrope walk called "mockumentary" such a difficult trick to pull off. Then, they completely forget that the first responsibility of comedy is to be funny.
Memron doesn't just miss the mark in terms of humor -- it doesn't live on the same planet as humor. It's not so much that its jokes don't work. They're simply nonexistent. Every moment, every frame of this film is so utterly bereft of laughs that it creates an emotional vacuum. Memron sucks pleasure and hope out of the viewer like a black hole absorbs light.
See whether any of the following sounds remotely chuckle-inducing to you. The ex-Memron folks start their own company attempting to sell air (yes, air) in plastic garbage bags. The former CEO is released from prison to house arrest, and his GPS ankle bracelet beeps frantically every time he steps off the edge of his driveway. Shelly's handicapped daughter locks herself in her psychotherapist's car, and refuses to come out. Not laughing yet? Nor was I. Unlike you, however, I had to sit through the whole doggone movie, not laughing.
As a mockumentary, Memron is both a mockery and a mess. The factor that makes writer-director Christopher Guest the highest practitioner of this narrowly constructed film genre is his unconditional affection for his characters. The people in a Guest mockumentary (i.e., Waiting For Guffman, Best In Show, A Mighty Wind) may all be silly, self-important, foible-ridden fools, but they're always at least somewhat endearing, and their director pokes fun at them without being vicious to them. By contrast, not one of the characters in Memron is even remotely likeable. In fact, they're uniformly crass, obnoxious, and irritating. The audience can't care about any of them because the filmmakers clearly do not. When bad things befall the ex-Memronites, we neither pity nor identify with them. We just want them to go away -- quickly and quietly.
Success using a minimally scripted narrative, such as the mockumentary format requires, demands a cast with flawless improvisational skills. Guest's usual gang of suspects, to return to the master for a moment, consists of veteran performers with brilliant comic instincts and trip-hammer timing. The cast of Memron, conversely, appears to have been recruited from a convalescent home for the terminally boring. No one here seems capable of executing a funny line effectively -- not that there are many opportunities -- or independently creating humor out of their characters' situations. Every attempt at a joke is pounded home like a kitchen mallet tenderizing meat. If a film school instructor were to teach a class on how not to make an audience laugh, Memron could be the case in point.
I'm sure that when director Nancy Hower reviewed the dailies at the end of each shooting session, she fell on the floor of the screening room, cackling with glee. If only she'd remembered to let the rest of us in on the fun. Because she didn't, and because her cast apparently couldn't, Memron is as lifeless and laughless an excuse for comedy as any movie this reviewer has ever seen.
Memron was a bargain-basement independent production -- director Hower shot most of the footage herself -- and looks like it. If you're searching for high-tech audiovisual specifications, you've wandered into the wrong movie. Thank your lucky stars that there are no DVD extras (beyond the obligatory trailer) that would compel you to spend even one second longer with this disc than you absolutely must.
The final sound before Memron's closing credits is the cry of a squalling baby. After sitting through this film twice -- because it's my job -- I knew exactly how that kid felt.
Laugh? I didn't even smile during the agonizingly long 79 minutes of Chinese water torture I spent waiting for Memron to tickle my funny bone. I've had more fun on my hands and knees polishing my bathroom grout with a toothbrush. If you thought what the venal top brass at Enron and WorldCom did to their underlings was a crime, just see how you feel after blowing your hard-earned cash on this turkey.
"Guilty" doesn't even begin to say it. If Alcatraz were still operational, even a life sentence there would be too light a punishment for the people who made this movie.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 79 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Theatrical Trailer
* Official Site