Yeeaaahh... Office Space 7/22

After a string of horror, suspense, comic-book movies, B-movies and whatnot, I thought it’d be a change to throw a comedy into the mix. I’ve never really been a comedy-watching kind of guy… while I like my lowbrow horror movies more than I should, I just can’t stand lowbrow comedies – which is apparently the only type of comedy that makes money these days (i.e. anything starring the Wayans Brothers, Rob Schneider, Ashton Kutcher, et al). Can’t stand ‘em. Won’t pay money to see them on the big screen, either, as there’s something distinctly uncinematic about comedies in general. By and large, they just don’t feel like movies, more like TV sitcoms.

I do have a sense of humor, and do like comedies mixed with horror – see Shaun of the Dead and Bubba Ho Tep. However, I do like the small-screen work of Mike Judge, the creator of Beavis and Butthead and King of the Hill. I remember at the time Beavis and Butthead debuted that it seemed to me to be making fun of a bunch of kids I knew; it was especially disheartening when said malcontents began adopting the animated duos behavior to the nth degree.

In 1993, Judge created a series of shorts for Saturday Night Live featuring a character named Milton, an office drone who gets relocated to the office basement where he is lorded over by his corporate boss Lumbergh. It was this character that inspired Judge’s first live-action feature, 1999’s Office Space.

Prior to the feature we ran the next in the series of BMW short films, Hostage, this one directed by John Woo. The first “season” of BMW films were produced by David Fincher and his teammates at Propoganda Films, and consisted of 5 shorts. The second wave, produced by Scott Free, a company founded by brothers Ridley and Tony Scott, consist of only three films – but the budgets are evidently larger and the resultant films more flashier. Director Woo kicks off the film with a plot in which the Driver (Clive Owen) must locate a woman who’s been locked in the trunk of a sinking car before she drowns. The film is fast, exciting and condenses quite a bit of story into its 10 minute running time.

Office Space is set in the modern, soul-sucking, cubicle-bound, office environment. Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) hates his job and his boss, Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole). He suspects his girlfriend is cheating on him. At her request, they visit a hypnotherapist, who places Peter into a suggestive state of bliss and then dies before snapping him out of it. Newly high on life, Peter loses the desire to go to work, ignores his boss, dumps his girlfriend, and gets the courage to ask out the pretty waitress (Jennifer Aniston) from a nearby restaurant. His company, Intech, is undergoing a downsizing and has brought in a pair of “consultants” to interview each employee. Peter’s co-workers include Milton (Stephen Root), who has already been laid off, but thanks to a computer error has resulted in a steady paycheck; Michael Bolton (David Herman) a computer programmer who has developed a virus capable of routing small decimal amounts of money into a new bank account; and Samir (Ajay Naidu), a programmer who knows the ins and outs of Intech’s corporate accounts.

With his new, “I don’t give a damn” attitude, Peter actually ends up impressing the consultants with his straight-talk, so much so that they recommend him for promotion. However, they suggest firing Michael and Samir – so, the trio retaliate by putting Michael’s virus program into effect.

Judge’s take on office politics is spot on. Anyone who has worked in the corporate world knows a boss like Lumbergh, co-workers like Milton, and meaningless busywork. Judge skewers his targets with laser-sharp wit. In a meeting room, a detailed flowchart bears the title “Planning to Plan”. Lindberg uses politically correct double talk: “I’m going to need you to go ahead and come in on Saturday.” A riotous scene involves a baseball bat, a field and an office copier, set to gangsta rap.

The director also appears in the film as Jennifer Aniston’s manager at Chotskey’s, the fictional take off on the T.G.I.F’s restaurant chain. Her character, Joanna, is required to wear a minimum of 15 pieces of “flair” on her uniform’s suspenders – “flair” being buttons and other memorabilia. When Joanna wears only the required 15 pieces, her manager singles her out for ridicule.

Prior to Office Space, Mike Judge’s big-screen work consisted of the animated Beavis and Butthead Do America. He’s also appeared in the Spy Kids films, directed by fellow Austin-ite Robert Rodriguez. Stephen Root, who plays Milton, also voices Bill Dauterive (among others) on the King of the Hill TV show. Male lead Ron Livingston is a episodic television staple, having appeared in numerous primetime series, including HBO’s Band of Brothers, House M.D, The Practice and Sex in the City. And, Jennifer Aniston, who at the time was starring in Friends, went on from supporting roles to leads as one of Hollywood’s leading ladies.