Office Space Review

by Scott Renshaw (renshaw AT inconnect DOT com)
February 22nd, 1999

(20th Century Fox)
Starring: Ron Livingston, Jennifer Aniston, David Herman, Ajay Naidu, Stephen Root, Gary Cole, Diedrich Bader.
Screenplay: Mike Judge, based on his "Milton" animated shorts. Producers: Michael Rotenberg and Daniel Rappaport.
Director: Mike Judge.
MPAA Rating: R (profanity, sexual content)
Running Time: 88 minutes.
Reviewed by Scott Renshaw.

    In the small television-sized doses which are his forte, Mike Judge is one of our savviest social satirists. Freed of the "Beavis and Butt-head"-inspired hand-wringing by many conservative critics, Judge has been able to show in "King of the Hill" what his supporters have known all along: that Judge observes behavioral quirks as well as anyone, whether his subjects are media-fried teenagers or middle-aged suburbanites. In OFFICE SPACE, his first live-action feature, Judge turns his attention to corporate culture, a world of cubicles, coffee and numbing sameness ripe for skewering.

    It's not a new target for Judge. In fact, the animated shorts he created about a put-upon office worker named Milton (played in the film by "NewsRadio's" Stephen Root) even pre-date "Beavis & Butt-head." Here he expands the concept to focus on a computer programmer named Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) at a software company called Initech. Peter loathes everything about his job -- the grinding commute, the chirping customer service operator in the next cubicle, the mountains of pointless reports, the passive-aggressive pestering by his boss Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole). That all changes after a visit to a hypnotherapist leaves Peter with a new perspective, and a blissful disregard for preserving his position. While "consultants" preparing for layoffs have most Initech employees scrambling to justify their existence, Peter's id-run-wild "straight-shooting" has him in line for a promotion.

    The first 45 minutes of OFFICE SPACE exploit the concept to its fullest, resulting in some wonderfully surreal, wonderfully funny moments. The opening traffic jam sequence alone is a sly riot, including a futile exercise in "fastest lane" selection and a geeky white programmer who blasts gansta rap on his car stereo but locks his door when an actual black person walks near him. Gary Cole, who so brilliantly nailed the Mike Brady cadence in the BRADY BUNCH films, is equally slick with the self-help tones of an inept middle-manager ("If you could just remember to do that from now on, that would be great"). For a while, it looks like Judge is going to head into inspired territory, lining up the newly revitalized Peter for a supervisory position which could turn Initech upside-down.

    Then, in a depressing turn of events, Judge appears to run out of ideas for the premise he spent the first half of the film setting up. Instead of continuing his cannon shots at bureaucratic tyranny, he launches into a lame caper in which Peter and his about-to-be-downsized co-workers Samir (Ajay Naidu) and Michael Bolton (David Herman) -- no relation to the singer -- try to rip off Initech by introducting a computer virus into the accounting program. As even the characters in the film note, the premise is a rip-off from SUPERMAN III, and Judge doesn't do anything interesting with it to justify recycling it. OFFICE SPACE grows tiresome in its last half hour, flipping back and forth between the conspirators' anxiety over getting caught and a limp romance between Peter and a sweet waitress (Jennifer Aniston). After a decent televison episode's worth of keen-edged satire, Judge lets his script dribble into bland conventionality.

    It wouldn't be fair to suggest that Judge is only comfortable with characters as cartoons -- Hank Hill is more endearingly human than most sit-com creations put together -- but that seems to be the case in OFFICE SPACE. The robotic Lumbergh and the muttering Milton create the strongest impression in the film; not coincidentally, they're the most extremely absurdist creations. When Judge tries to turn OFFICE SPACE into Peter's quest for professional meaning and personal fulfillment, it just doesn't work. He's much more effective pointing out the surreal yet all-too-real details of industrial park anthropology, but there's not quite enough material here to make it a thoroughgoing delight. Mike Judge has taken his gift for creating hilarous short films and overstayed his welcome.
    On the Renshaw scale of 0 to 10 cubicle dwellers: 5.

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