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Review: 'Office Space' breaks free from corporate cookie cutter

Web posted on:
Friday, February 19, 1999 11:17:54 AM EST

By Reviewer Paul Clinton

(CNN) -- The character-driven comedy "Office Space" is packed with the type of off-the-wall oddballs you would usually see only in a Second City or "Saturday Night Live" improv sketch. The production values are all very basic and so is the direction -- wide shot, close-up, reversal, cut. But the inventive script and good acting make this an impressive live action directorial and screenwriting debut by "Beavis and Butt-head" creator Mike Judge.

Our protagonist is Peter Gibbons, played by Ron Livingston, who's best known for his role in the sleeper hit "Swingers." Gibbons is a long-suffering "everyman" who hates his computer programming job. He also hates his bosses, all eight of them, and he's looking for a way out. So when efficiency experts are called in to downsize the company, he sees his golden opportunity to get the axe.

Watch the theatrical preview for "Office Space"
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He starts arriving late to work. To make up for it, he leaves early. He wears casual clothes and ignores his boss. Of course, in the twisted world of corporate thinking, all this behavior puts him on the fast track to promotion -- he's obviously a free thinker with "upper mangement written all over him."

Slacker promoted, hard workers fired

So he's promoted. Meanwhile, his two best friends, Michael Bolton (no, not that Michael Bolton) played by David Herman, and Samir, a Middle-Eastern, angst-ridden overachiever played by Ajay Naidu -- are axed. The three men then hatch a plot to get back at the company. But what they have in mind is no match for the plans of their co-worker Milton, played brilliantly by Stephen Root, who is best known as the sarcastic station owner on the TV sitcom "NewsRadio."

Milton is the character that started it all for Mike Judge. He was the star of the original 1990 animated short upon which "Office Space" is based. Milton has "loser" tattooed on his forehead. Sporting coke bottle glasses and very bad skin, he's pushed endlessly by his bosses into smaller and smaller office spaces with less and less to do. All the while, he's muttering about what he plans to do for revenge -- "OK, I could set the building on fire," he grumbles time and again. Basically the movie belongs to Root -- who effortlessly steals every scene in which he appears.

The weakest part of the film is a half-hearted subplot regarding a romance between Livingston and a waitress also fed up with her job, played by Jennifer Aniston. The two "lost souls" find each other while attempting to escape their daily grind. This little romantic appendage adds zip to the story.

Gary Cole is predictably sleazy as Bill Lumbergh, the main corporate honcho. As a character actor Cole has had a long and varied career. He played family patriarch Mike Brady, under a horrible curly wig, in both big-screen versions of "The Brady Bunch," but it was another role that drew Judge's attention when casting "Office Space." While trying to find the perfect corporate boss, Judge remembered Cole's performance as serial killer Jeffrey MacDonald in the TV movie "Fatal Vision." Serial killer ... corporate boss ... works for me.

Animation background shows through

In addition to "Beavis and Butt-head," Judge is also the co-creator of the animated TV series "King of the Hill." I'm not a big fan of "Beavis and Butt-head." Don't hate it. Don't love it. But I do enjoy "King of the Hill," and "Office Space" offers the same type of hangdog humor set in universal situations that everyone can relate to.

With this feature film, Judge's animation background shows clearly. This is a movie with few frills and a low budget. His shots are basic and simplistic, but the narrative is strong and the characters are all well-drawn -- pardon the pun.

The animated short for "Office Space" aired on "Saturday Night Live" in 1993. While video store shelves are littered with bad movies based on "SNL" sketches , this is not one of them. "Office Space" is a nice meat-and-potatoes comedy. Just sit back and enjoy it for what it is -- satisfing, but not overwelming.

"Office Space" is rated R for adult situations. The running time is 95 minutes.

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