Office Space Review

by "Harvey S. Karten" (film_critic AT compuserve DOT com)
February 22nd, 1999


Reviewed by Harvey Karten, Ph.D.
20th Century Fox
Director: Mike Judge
Writer: Mike Judge
Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Ron Livingston, Gary Cole, Alexandra Wentworth, Stephen Root, Todd Duffey, Jennifer Emerson, David Herman, John C. McGinley, Ajay Naidu, Rupert Reyes
    The tagline of "Office Space" is "works sucks," a concept that may indeed be true. Ironically, what sucks in real life (murder, mayhem, fatal illness) can be most entertaining on the big screen, as the audience sit back safely in their comfortable seats with their popcorn and burritos and contemplate the fate of people less fortunate than they. You may have to look for a while for movies that concentrate on people at work ("Wall Street" is a good example). "Office Space" is another reliable illustration. This one takes a Dilbert-like view of people sitting in their cubicles crunching numbers and doing assorted jobs which are not in the least as meaningful as the genuinely productive stuff that muscular guys accomplish on the street with their drills, hammers, and saws.

    "Office Space" is directed by Mike Judge, who is perhaps best known for his direction of the animated feature "Beavis and Butthead Do America," but some of you may be familiar with his short cartoons going under the name of "Milton." The title character of this lampoon has been seen on programs like "Saturday Night Live" and, in fact, the entire movie comes across as an extended sketch of that unevenly comic TV entertainment. Judge's movie satirizes office work with its impossible bosses, alienating labor, and meaningless paper-pushing. Though it centers on three particular software engineers who are mad as hell and are not going to take it any more, "Office Work" does not even approach the depth of Sidney Lumet's 1976 cry for help, "Network." Nor does it possess the witty, sledgehammer impact of Michael Moore's hilarious 1998 documentary, "The Big One." Nonetheless, it's a fun movie that will appeal particularly to those in the audience who have the misfortune of spending their weekdays in cubicles, one that works because of the wonderful deadpan acting of its central character, Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston), who teams up with his two best friends on the job to do something about their lives of quiet desperation.

    Essentially a sophisticated sitcom, an extended joke that manages to keep the giggles coming throughout its ninety minutes, "Office Space" begins its thesis that work is a travesty by spotlighting a major traffic jam on a typical morning. Watch especially the nerdy-looking Michael Bolton (David Herman) lip-synching gangsta rap from the safety of his closed automobile. When he, his Saudi-American co- worker with an unpronounceable name (Ajay Naidu), and Peter Gibbons learn that their company expects to downsize workers, they conjure up a plan to introduce a virus into the computer network which would not only damage the corporation but would be slowly and imperceptibly put money into their bank accounts over a period of years.

    The running gag of the story, however, is that Peter, hypnotized into a permanent don't-worry-be-happy attitude, not only stops coming to work on time if at all, but convinces a hatchet man hired as a consultant that he should be promoted rather than fired.

    The brief romance between him and Joanna (Jennifer Aniston), serves as a subplot, as Joanna is as disgusted with her job as a restaurant waitress as Peter is as a software developer. Despite Ms. Aniston's appeal, the entire romantic interlude could be cut from the movie with no great loss, giving Judge an opportunity to concentrate on what he does best--to send up corporate America.

    "Office Space" is for the most part sit-com formulaic but when the jokes work--which they do most of the time--they provide quite enough laughs and signs of rueful recognition for the audience. When Peter, who has taken a devil-may- care attitude, is warned that he will be fired and will not be able to pay his bills, he responds confidently and coolly, "I never really liked paying bills." This is the sort of quip that infuses the entire movie. If that appeals to you, this is your kind of movie. I know it's mine.

Rated R. Running Time: 90 minutes. (C) 1999
Harvey Karten

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