[Screen It]

(2005) (Justin Long, Ryan Reynolds) (R)

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Comedy: Various employees at a chain restaurant go through the day trying to get along, serve their customers and deal with their various personal and work-related issues.
In his four years of working at chain restaurant Shenanigans, Dean (JUSTIN LONG) has never really questioned his job there or life after high school. Yet, when his mom informs him of a former classmate landing a lucrative job, he begins to wonder.

His coworker, Monty (RYAN REYNOLDS), however, has no such personal dilemmas. When not showing new employee Mitch (JOHN FRANCIS DALEY) the ropes, he tries to impress sexy hostess Natasha (VANESSA LENGLES) who's almost 18, all while making jabs at lesbian bartender Tyla (EMMANUELLE CHRIQUI) and dealing with his former lover Serena (ANNA FARIS).

She's friends with Amy (KAITLIN DOUBLEDAY) who's now sleeping with Dean who in turn has just been offered an assistant manager job at the restaurant by his boss, Dan (DAVID KOECHNER). He also has a thing for Natasha despite being her boss and old enough to be her father and then some. But Dan has other considerations, such as hostile waitress Naomi (ALANA UBACH) and his busboys T-Dog (MAX KASCH) and Nick (ANDY MILONAKIS) who think they're gangster rappers despite being lily white.

And while dishwasher Bishop (CHI McBRIDE) bandies about philosophical thoughts, Calvin (ROBERT PATRICK BENNEDICT) tries to come to grips with being unable to urinate in public and cook Raddimus (LUIS GUZMAN), when not purposefully wiping ready to be served food on the floor or having sex with his girlfriend, enjoys playing a game with the other guys of exposing their genitalia to the others for shock value.

As a day in the life of these restaurant employees comes and goes and they deal with all sorts of situations involving mean or demanding customers and more, Dean must decide whether he wants to continue working there, all while Monty and Dan separately try to bed Natasha.

OUR TAKE: 1.5 out of 10
A long-standing mantra of screenwriting is "write what you know." The theory is that anyone can make up stuff, but only you can put your own spin on said material due to your personal experiences with it. If one's to believe the official website of freshman writer Rob McKittrick (and I have no reason not to, but in today's age of stealth promotion, one can never be too wary), he's certainly the prime candidate for penning a tale about the daily trials and tribulation of working on the wait staff at chain restaurants.

A quick look at the site shows an angry and some may say venomous opinion of such places and of such employment at them. Thus, one might expect his first feature film - the appropriately titled "Waiting" -- to be a satire of the industry, filled with all sorts of insider info, experience and opinions about working in such a place.

For better or worse, McKittrick isn't the first irate employee to write a screenplay about his or her amazing, boring, funny and infuriating experiences in the work place. There have been countless such films, but the ones that will likely come to mind while watching this so-called comedy are "Office Space" (where Jennifer Aniston had to deal with personal knickknacks known as "flair" in her chain restaurant - while the rest of the film was a funny rip on office work), "Fast Times At Ridgemont High" (where various young people tried to find their place in the world while working in the mall or serving unhappy customers in a fast food fish restaurant) and, of course, "Clerks."

That was writer/director Kevin Smith's breakout debut film about a day in the life of those who work in and frequent a convenience store in Jersey. Vulgar, profane and acerbic, it was also a rather funny and sometimes slightly insightful look at people, work and the ups and downs of working retail. If you've ever done any of the latter, you know that among the everyday decent folk, some of the customers are amazingly rude, mean, weird or just plain dumb and Smith captured all of that, sometimes brilliantly, in his film.

According to McKittrick's website, he watched "Clerks a million times," a fact that's all too readily apparent in plot and character similarities, but also in the fact that his effort doesn't hold a candle to that or any of its other predecessors. And much of that stems from the fact that McKittrick decided to follow in Smith's footsteps and direct his debut as well.

Unfortunately, the results are nowhere as satisfactory whether from a directorial standpoint, or just from the satirical story side. While some parody is present (mainly in regards to certain customer types and their comeuppance), McKittrick seems fixated on and unable to let go of various crude running gags that aren't funny the first time, let alone the second, fifth or tenth time they roll around.

Then again, if you're a thirteen-year-old boy, you might be rolling in the aisles regarding a recurring bit where the men in the restaurant try to expose their genitals to each other, with the viewer then being punished with a swift kick to the rear. The funny part is supposed to be the various imaginative ways one's privates can be displayed, stretched or otherwise contorted, but none of it's remotely funny (unless you fall into that specific demographic that's otherwise obviously too young to see this strong, R-rated film).

Then there are repeated bits about a guy who can't urinate in public restrooms; an amorous couple's antics in the building; a twenty or thirty something loser who's fixated on nailing underage girls; a middle-aged manager who becomes enticed by his underage hostess, two white teens who think they're black gangster rappers, and more. I suppose with just the right directorial touch or sharp writing, such material might have been funny and maybe even occasionally hilarious, but as it stands it's just one instance after another of repetitive banality and idiocy.

Most such films have a more serious subplot featuring some angst-filled character looking or at least needing to change, and this effort doesn't let that one slip by. Here, it's Justin Long ("Herbie: Fully Loaded," "Jeepers Creepers") portraying the screen alter-ego of McKittrick as a twenty-something waiter who's suddenly realized he's in a dead end job in a dead end life.

While there's potential present -- albeit not remotely original -- McKittrick similarly botches that. It doesn't help that Long is blasť in the role, but there's just nothing there for audiences latch on to. It may have been therapeutic for the filmmaker essentially putting himself or at least his character type up on the screen, but it does nothing for the film.

As far as the performances are concerned, none of the mostly young actors and actresses has any sort of fighting chance as they're pigeonholed in very specific character types with very repetitive and defining traits. Among the more notable but wasted performers is Chi McBride ("Roll Bounce," "The Terminal") as some sort of philosophical dishwasher and Luis Guzman ("The Salton Sea," "Boogey Nights") as the perpetually horny cook with a penchant for using the floor to add some flavoring and/or texture to his culinary creations.

And could someone please stop Ryan Reynolds ("The Amityville Horror," "Blade: Trinity") from playing the same sort of smarmy, smart aleck character he did in "Van Wilder." His comedic timing, delivery and overall being were awful there and that only continues here, and since he's one of the major characters, he quickly wears on one's nerves.

With perhaps a random chuckle or two scattered throughout the rest of this comic misfire, you'll likely find yourself following the title's descriptive moniker for a workplace satire as sharp or witty in its observational humor as "Clerks" and then "Office Space" managed to be. "Waiting" rates as a 1.5 out of 10.

Reviewed September 22, 2005 / Posted October 7, 2005

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