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(2006) (Dane Cook, Jessica Simpson) (PG-13)

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Comedy: When he learns that the comely new cashier supposedly will sleep with the employee of the month, a slacker box boy decides to take on the reigning champion for that title.
Zack (DANE COOK) is a laidback, thirty-something box boy at a warehouse club where he works with his friends and fellow box boys, nerdy Russell (HARLAND WILLIAMS), middle-aged family man Iqbal (BRIAN GEORGE), and Lon (ANDY DICK) whose super-thick glasses do little to improve his poor vision.

They realize they'll never be like egotistical head cashier Vince (DAX SHEPARD) who, with the aide of sycophant Jorge (EFREN RAMIREZ), has won the employee of the month award for the past 17 months straight and is a favorite of store manager Glen Gary (TIM BAGLEY) and his assistant Dirk (SEAN WHALEN). Should he win one more, he'll not only enter the employee hall of fame and move one step closer to a management position, but he'll also be awarded a new car.

Pretty much everyone has conceded the competition to him except, that is, Zack who suddenly is motivated to challenge the champion. That's because he's learned that newly transferred and gorgeous cashier Amy (JESSICA SIMPSON) reportedly has a thing for sleeping with employee of the month winners. Tired of Vince and everything about him -- including him also making a move on Amy -- Zack sets out to win the award and thus her favors, no matter the costs. When Glen's boss and diminutive brother Glen Ross (DANNY WOODBURN) shows up to inspect the Super Club facility, the stakes get even higher as Vince and Zack do what it takes to defeat the other.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
I'll freely admit that I've been a proud, card-carrying member of the discount warehouse club store Costco (once known as and still referred to as Price Club by the longtime, diehard aficionados) for the past twenty years. Also affectionately called the $100 Club (since you can rarely get out of the place for under that amount), it's a shopping addiction (people have actually studied customers in the checkout lines frantically looking over other customer's carts to see if they missed out on something cool).

And, despite a membership fee, it's a great deal, especially when one considers the chain's anytime, money back guarantee on most everything they sell (perishable food products obviously being exempt). Considering all of that and the overall cultural phenomenon it's become, it's surprising that it's taken so long for a movie to be made about such a place.

Unfortunately, that flick happens to be the lame comedy "Employee of the Month," a product that's so poorly assembled I wished I could have returned it to such a place and gotten my money back (and that's even after getting into the press screening for free).

While there are a few jabs at the mass commercialism of such places (we see enormous boxes of condoms, boxed shotguns and even caskets -- which the real place does sell, but only online), the filmmakers appear to be striving for something along the lines of "Office Space II."

Alas, writer/director Greg Coolidge ("Sorority Boys") and co-writers Don Calame & Chris Conry don't tap into the zeitgeist of such work anywhere near as smartly as Mike Judge did with that 1999 comedy about cubicle-ized worker bees and their demanding but completely out of touch boss. While some similar elements are present here, they're clearly not as clever or funny as that previous release.

Of course, some of that stems from the fact that the filmmakers opted to shift the focus of their story away from such observational material and onto a competition between polar opposite employees striving for the coveted employee of the month award.

Perhaps with the right handling of the material and a more gifted cast that idea might have worked, but the result here is forced, often painfully lame, and decidedly unfunny. While watching it unravel before my eyes, I not only thought of "Office Space," but also "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," a slightly similar film about an unmotivated loser and his sidekick coworkers who offer him advice. What made that film work was that it had heart and actually made one care about the protagonist despite the ribald subject matter and related material.

There's little to no heart here, a point shared by another lame employment comedy, "Waiting" (about restaurant waiters and their daily travails), which also just so happened to feature Dane Cook who appears as the lead here. Reportedly a big draw on the stand-up comedy circuit, I've yet to see what's pushed him into the limelight as he comes off as just another version of Ryan Reynolds to me.

His opponent -- a flashy and egotistical cashier -- is played in true, over the top "Saturday Night Live" skit fashion by Dax Shepard. He's purposefully designed to be so ultra smug that we automatically despise him and root for his comeuppance, but that doesn't automatically ensure that the character is funny. The fact that he drives an ancient Honda and covets a new Chevy Malibu is an example of that.

Nevertheless, the film's biggest sin -- beyond casting Jessica Simpson in the pretty girl role that makes her turn in "The Dukes of Hazzard" look brilliant in comparison -- is that the filmmakers take so long before getting into the down and dirty battle between the two characters. And once they finally do, it's nowhere as clever, imaginative or funny as it might have been, a sad trait also shared by the recent comedy "School For Scoundrels."

Oddly enough, like that film, this one features a star from the unnecessarily overrated "Napoleon Dynamite." As in his last outing, Efren Ramirez plays a slow on the uptake, sidekick character, but it isn't any funnier this time than last. Other supporting bits from the likes of Harland Williams, Brian George (Babu from TV's "Seinfeld") and Andy Dick as an extremely near-sighted box boy, don't amount to much either, beyond the predictable falling out between their characters and Cook's as the latter tries to climb the corporate ladder so that he, as they say in the film, can get into Simpson's pants.

Supporting enough cleavage to elicit sexual harassment claims from male and female coworkers alike, her character isn't much more the sum of her body parts, a pretty but blank slate who serves to motivate the two competitors (they've incorrectly heard she only sleeps with EOTM winners). The chemistry between her and Cook is about as hot as a warehouse club's concrete floor in the middle of the winter and thus the film fails on even that level. Which also holds true for its "sophisticated" material (the height of which is having two brother characters named Glen Gary and Glen Ross -- and only David Mamet fans will get that).

Filled with enough product placements to choke a capitalist and obviously shot in a barely disguised Costco warehouse (the Kirkland product line is a dead giveaway, along with other visual clues), the film simply doesn't work. All of which makes me wonder what the chain's policy will be when dissatisfied customers try to return this comedy if they're unwise and/or unfortunate enough to see it once it's on DVD, which probably won't be long after a brief theatrical run. While it's not the worst thing you could see all year, "Employee of the Month" should be sacked, and soon. It rates as a 2 out of 10.

Reviewed October 4, 2006 / Posted October 6, 2006

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