Anchor Bay // 2010 // 82 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Mac McEntire // July 22nd, 2010
Two rival teams of assassins. One killer day at the office.
I can hear the pitch now: "It's The Office meets Wanted." From there, this straight-to-DVD comedy-action hybrid gathered an impressive and eclectic cast. Is it explosive fun or is it just another day on the job?
A secret agent, codenamed Fool (Joe Anderson, Across the Universe), is starting his first day on the job at the Factory, a classified underground office where the employees are two competing groups of assassins. Just as Fool meets his new coworkers, the boss, codenamed Devil (Jeffrey Tambor, Arrested Development), is murdered in his office and "Operation: Endgame" is unleashed, trapping the agents inside their office with a bomb about to go off. Now, while everyone frantically searches for a way out, the two factions seek to kill their opponents in any way they can.
This rouge's gallery includes:
* Chariot (Rob Corddry, Hot Tub Time Machine), a foul-mouthed, burned-out drunk.
* Temperance (Odette Yustman, Cloverfield), Fool's ex-girlfriend, an expert on seduction.
* Empress (Ellen Barkin, Ocean's Thirteen), the cynical ice queen.
* Heirophant (Emilie De Ravin, Lost), a psychopath who plays the part of a nice girl, but is anything but.
* Judgment (Ving Rhames, Pulp Fiction), hardcore demolitions expert.
* High Priestess (Maggie Q, Live Free or Die Hard), a weapons expert who takes her job very seriously.
* Tower (Brandon T. Jackson, Tropic Thunder), a young Republican fresh out of college, with a fascination for Nietzsche.
* Emperor (Bob Odenkirk, Tom Goes to the Mayor), and Magician (Adam Scott, Party Down), your basic bureaucratic pencil-pushers.
* The Hermit (Zach Galifinakis, The Hangover), who wanders around the office's basement and side corridors, with an agenda of his own.
A group of office workers go berserk trying to kill each other after all hell breaks loose. I'm down with that as a concept for a dark comedy. There are a lot of great gags as the characters duke it out in and around the office. The tricky part is getting the audience to the point where this is reasonably believable.
After a quick introduction to Fool, Chariot, and High Priestess, which allows Corddry to do some foul-mouthed comedy shtick, we get a sped-up rundown of what the Factory is, how there are two opposing factions working side by side, and who the rest of the characters are, including their various quirks and relationships with one another. After that is breezed through as fast as possible, the titular endgame occurs, and the plot is off and running, with a ticking clock and characters with murderous intent.
It's the whole "show, don't tell" problem. We're told that the Factory has two rival groups working side by side, but we never see how this odd working relationship functions. We're told that Heirophant is psychotic and Tower is straight-laced, instead of learning this naturally, by witnessing the characters interact with others. It's not until after the plot is in full swing that we see these character traits in action, and then we have to think back and remember the tiny expository dollops we were fed at the beginning. It's like we're getting the second and third acts of the story without the first.
I just can't get my head around the whole "two rival groups of killers sharing the same office" thing. There's some piece of dialogue that attempts to explain that peace is maintained by having the two sides keep each other in check, and without that, there would be worldwide chaos or somesuch. It seems to me that dividing the cast into two groups is merely a narrative shortcut, an attempt to give these spy characters an excuse to fight and kill each other. Instead of giving them a character-based reason to battle each other, all we get is a one-sentence backstory that boils down to "that's always how it's been." Therefore, although the punching and kicking has its moments, it feels hollow.
Now, I know how easy it is for a critic to write "show, don't tell" when compared the numerous challenges of actually making a movie. If the screenwriters had taken the time to establish each of the characters and their relationships with one another, it would have added about another hour onto the movie, and slowed it down considerably. This is meant to be a wild, face-paced romp, and making it longer would not have benefited it. What is the solution? Reduce the amount of characters? Shorten the fights and kills? I doubt these would help the movie either. Maybe toss out the "rival sides" concept and introduce a battle royale sort of situation, in which only one of them can survive? Clearly, the concept and the backstory needed more revisions at the script stage before the movie went ahead, because these questions bugged me throughout the movie.
That's unfortunate, because the movie has its good points as well. There's no doubt that Ving Rhames and Maggie Q are badass, but seeing Corddry, Galifinakis, De Ravin, and Barkin also be badass is a lot of fun. Those guns you see on the cover art aren't in the movie. Instead, with their guns behind sealed doors, our intrepid spies have to use whatever's around the office as weapons. This will no doubt be a vicarious thrill for any viewers who have ever imagined using a stapler to bludgeon an annoying coworker. Sure, it's fairly predictable to tell who dies when, but a lot of the kills are clever ones, so that's OK. As for the comedy, it's mostly front-loaded into the beginning of the movie, when the jaded coworkers toss lewd one-liners at each other. As the stakes get higher, the movie becomes less jokey and more action/thriller oriented
Picture quality is excellent, and the 5.1 sound is good as well. The only extras are a short making-of piece that's raw footage from the set, a very funny alternate opening, and an alternate ending that appears almost identical to the actual ending.
The idea of office workers trying to kill each other is rife with metaphor, obviously, but then the movie throws political metaphors at us as well. The entire story takes place on the day of the Obama inauguration, and throughout the movie we get scenes of two surveillance guys watching footage of Obama, George W. Bush, and Dick Cheney from that day, all intercut with the violence and craziness happening in the office. There's something in the plot about the bomb being set off because of a botched safehouse mission, but the political metaphor would have us believe that the bomb is one administration sweeping its secrets under the rug as the new administration takes over. Hey, I'm not here to agree or disagree with anyone's politics, it's just that these heavy-handed attacks on the government don't mesh with the goofy action elsewhere in the movie, at least not as well as I'm sure the filmmakers intended.
What to make of this one? It has a great cast and some fun action-comedy antics, but some issues with the movie's basic premise kept me from enjoying it as much as I wanted. If you're curious, put this one in the rental queue. For better workplace satires, check out Mike Judge's Office Space or Terry Gilliam's Brazil.
Suspended without pay.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 82 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Alternate Opening
* Alternate Ending
* Official Website