Genius Products // 2008 // 86 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // September 2nd, 2008
"Good luck...you're going to need it."
Two comic heavyweights -- Seann William Scott, who's come a long way since his days as Stifler; and John C. Reilly, is...well...John C. Reilly -- square off in a spirited competition for the greatest of goals: The position of grocery store manager.
Doug Stauber (Seann William Scott, Mr. Woodcock) is a soft-spoken assistant manager for a corporate grocery store. He and his girlfriend (Jenna Fischer, The Office) are barely scraping by, trapped in a crappy apartment with thin walls and amorous male banjo-players on the other side. But an opportunity for advancement presents itself with the construction plans for a new store and the manager position available.
Told he was a shoo-in for the job, Doug puts a down payment on an expensive house -- and promptly panics when a Canadian transfer named Richard (John C. Reilly, Walk Hard) also eyes the position. So begins a rivalry that incrementally increases in tenacity...and only one man will emerge with the job.
This is not what I expected. That's a good thing. The trailers for The Promotion led me to believe this was a raucous, outrageous set-piece-sporting competition comedy, where each character sabotages the other in increasingly over-the-top ways.
It's not. It's different.
So defuse the expectation that you're going to see a comedy similar to Meet the Parents. What writer/director Steven Conrad is after is a more subtle, authentic take on the dog-eat-dog world of grocery promotion; a scenario that has been unfairly ignored in filmmaking circles. Yes that's a sarcastic statement, but it's a tribute to Conrad's abilities that he uses such an odd prism to explore the corporate world and the pressures on people that operate within this realm to better their standing.
The main characters are the primary reason for The Promotion's uniqueness. Doug and Richard are equally sympathetic; you want them both to succeed. Doug's in a tough spot with his house, sure, but Richard is a recovering addict struggling to maintain his family. And in a twist on the genre convention, Richard is actually a recovering addict. I was 100% sure Conrad was using it as ploy for Richard to get the edge in the promotion race, propelling Doug to retaliate in a proportionately unethical manner, until something explodes or an elephant runs amok. No, these are decent guys, with fine temperaments, just vying for the same exact thing.
As such, The Promotion finds its success more as a semi-serious examination of two characters with much to lose trying to get ahead. Even when they're exploited for laughs (Richard's monologue of auto-erotica and how it relates to the disabled, or Doug's temper tantrum in the lot when confronting loitering gang members), there's sympathy to be found.
And there are laughs. This isn't an episode of General Hospital, and it's a lot funnier than something like Stranger than Fiction, whose drama was dramatic but humor wasn't humorous. The gags are funny, highlighted by more than a few laugh-out-loud moments (the banjo-playing roommates, the "Highlights" magazine, the slap-happy Eastern European, Jason Bateman's cameo as the host of a corporate retreat, the "black apples" comment). There are some misses of course, but they're not deal killers.
Tech specs: A sharp 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen (they're all pretty sharp these days, huh?) and a 5.1 surround mix. Extras: Deleted scenes; commentary by Steven Conrad, producers Jessika Borsicky Goyer and Steven A. Jones; promotional webisodes; outtakes; and a 20-minute making-of documentary. Solid disc all around.
The ending was too abrupt and failed to memorably cap the film.
Go into this with the right expectations -- a comedy that takes its time, focusing on character work instead of boffo set-ups -- and an enjoyable experience awaits.
Not Guilty. Clean up in Aisle 5.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes