Office Space Review

by "Joe Barlow" (jbarlow AT earthling DOT net)
February 23rd, 1999

    A movie review by Joe Barlow
    (c) Copyright 1999

STARRING: Ron Livingston, Jennifer Aniston, Gary Cole,
    Stephen Root, David Herman, Ajay Naidu DIRECTOR: Mike Judge
WRITER: Mike Judge (based on his "Milton" cartoons) RATED: R

    RATING: *** (out of a possible ****)

    In my other life, the one in which I'm not pretending to be Roger Ebert, I work for a nationally-known computer company. I'm all too familiar with corporate bureaucracy, inefficient procedures, and managers who think redundancy is the answer to everything. Dilbert is my soulmate.

    For those of you in the same boat, take note: the first half of Mike Judge's "Office Space" is so dead-on in its portrayal of corporate America that I had to resist the temptation to throw up my hands and yell "Get outta my head!" at the screen on several occasions. Judge, the man who garnered fame for his animated satirizations of youth culture (Beavis and Butthead) and Southern life (King of the Hill), pulls no punches with his depiction of Initech, the sort of faceless corporate conglomerate that many of us can relate to. You've probably worked somewhere similar: a carpeted labyrinth of cubicles, where the fax machine rarely works, the computers are woefully slow, and the managers have nothing to do but hire consultants and chastise employees for improperly filling out cover pages.

    Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) is a programmer working on the Year 2000 problem for Initech, but he finds his job so tedious and meaningless that he spends most of his time staring at his desk. His friend and co-worker, the unfortunately-named Michael Bolton (David Herman), enjoys listening to rap music as an act of defiance to the singer of the same name. Samir (Ajay Naidu), an Indian computer guru, gets so frustrated by the traffic problems he encounteres on the way to work every morning that he can't even articulate the curse words. And Milton (Stephen Root), a timid, middle-age nobody who speaks with the voice of Droopy Dog, is about to reach his breaking point after years of abuse by the corporation.
    After his boss (Gary Cole, sounding like a real-life version of Mr. Mackay from "South Park") orders him to cancel his weekend fishing trip because of a work backlog, Peter visits a hypnotist in an attempt to relieve some work-related stress. The therapy works a bit too well, however: soon Peter is so relaxed and laid-back that he's wearing T-shirts and shorts to the office, completely ignoring his boss, and skipping work on a regular basis. This new attitude intrigues Joanna (Jennifer Aniston), a waitress suffering from workplace woes of her own. The therapy gradually wears off... but not before Peter's new approach to work is deemed "refreshing" by the consultants, who recommend him for immediate promotion even as the hardest-working employees are being laid-off.
    There are a lot of big laughs in "Office Space," particularly during the first hour; gags fly around with such rapidity that I can almost picture director Judge jumping up and down in the editing room, clapping his hands with glee. I can relate to these characters and empathize with their plight. I'm pleased to see someone else trying this type of humor; apart from cartoonist Scott Adams (the creator of "Dilbert"), this genre has been largely neglected. He's done well; the majority of "Office Space" works splendidly.

    It's a shame, then, that Judge is not confident enough with the material to let it stand on its own. Characters like Peter, Michael and Joanna are fun, because they seem like real people. Others, like Milton and Lamberg (Peter's boss), are cardboard-thin and serve more as a distraction than anything else. How extraordinary "Office Space" could've been if it had stuck with believable people and situations, rather than giving us character stereotypes and two ridiculous plot twists in the film's second half.

    But a critic must judge a movie by what it contains rather than what it lacks, and much of what's here is gold. "Office Space" bills itself as a comedy, and it certainly kept me laughing. If you work in a corporate environment and hate your job, get together with a bunch of your fellow cubicle-dwellers and give this one a peek. We are definitely not alone in our frustrations.

***************************************************************** Copyright (c)1999 by Joe Barlow. This review may not be reproduced without the written consent of the author.

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