Beavis and Butt-Head, King of the Hill. Two of the most successful animated television series in recent years--and two of the most annoying creations to ever hit the tube, if you ask me. So I was surprised to find myself laughing through much of the offbeat workplace comedy Office Space, the live-action directorial debut of those series' creator, Mike Judge.
When we first meet Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston), he is stuck in the circle of hell known as morning rush hour trafic. But this is nothing compared to the next circle that awaits Peter and his also-traffic-jammed friends Samir (Ajay Naidu) and Michael Bolton (David Herman) every single day as office drones for the Initech Corporation. As we see Peter being harrassed by his numerous higher-ups about a memo regarding report cover sheets and Michael doing battle with the temperamental office copier and anyone who mentions a certain identically-named singer, Judge's point is abundantly clear: work sucks, as goes the film's tagline.
Judge's recreation of soul-deadening busy work is so painfully dead-on hilarious that it wouldn't really matter if there were much of a plot--and there really isn't much of one. Fed up with his unfulfilling, underappreciated efforts and his smarmy, condescending boss Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole), Peter decides to rebel, and he and the about-to-be-laid-off Samir and Michael join forces in an elaborate scheme to fleece the corporation. While their scheming does pave the way for some very effective, very funny set pieces (one gangland-style "beating" is a showstopper), it doesn't have much of a payoff. In fact, perhaps Office Space's weakest element is its rather flat conclusion, which doesn't fulfill the buildup of what preceded it.
Nonetheless, Judge has come up with a wry, perceptive, always-amusing comedy, highlighted by some memorable characters, chief among them the gangsta-rap-loving Michael Bolton; the ever-unctuous Lumbergh; and Milton (Stephen Root), a perpetually stepped-on (or, rather, completely ignored) soft-spoken co-worker. But it's Livingston who holds the film together. Peter, while the main character, may not be the showiest role in the film, but Livingston's low-key, self-effacing attitude works in creating a likable character--and, in turn, an involving film.
RATING: *** 1/2 (out of *****)
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