You remember that movie that came out last year about a loser character working in a retail store who then tried to improve himself in order to get a girl? That’s Employee of the Month. Just switch out the retail electronics shop for a warehouse store, make the lead character a lot more attractive and charismatic, and reduce the swearing and dirty jokes and you’ve basically got the same picture. That doesn’t mean it isn’t any fun though.
Dane Cook plays Zack Bradley, a box boy at Super Club, a Price Club/Costco/Sam’s Club type store. He’s more than content with his life as a box boy. He lives with his grandmother, hangs out with his buddies in their homemade lounge in the center of the store’s shopping racks, trades away dented goods, and gets along with just about everyone. In fact, there’s only one person Zack can’t seem to get along with: lead cashier Vince Downey (Dax Shepard), the epitome of retail world brown nosing. Vince has been employee of the month at Super Club for seventeen months straight and winning the eighteenth time means big prizes (including a “newish” Chevy Malibu) and a promotion. Usually that title wouldn’t mean anything to a slacker like Zack, but when the new hot cashier Amy (Jessica Simpson) appears on the scene with rumors that she goes for employee of the month, Zack decides to give Vince some competition.
This is, at its heart, an underdog film, which I almost always enjoy to some degree. Zack is constantly trod upon by Vince’s overwhelmingly good luck. Even when Zack and his friends try to get the best of the big suck up, something good happens for the egotistical wonder that allows him to come out ahead. It’s a real testament to the power of positive thinking once you learn that Vince sees his job as a big success (“why climb a mountain when you can win the land race?” he asks) while Zack knows his job sucks but took it as a way not to hurt anyone after a business failure cost his grandmother her retirement savings; Vince thinks well so he does well, Zack doesn’t. But really it’s a way of making the audience really want Vince to get his comeuppance, and feel a great sense of satisfaction once he begins to.
With a cast comprised of stand-up comedians, singer turned actors, and former Ashton Kutcher “Punk’d” assistants one doesn’t exactly expect Oscar caliber acting from Employee of the Month, however the performances aren’t terrible either. Dane Cook acts as a subdued Ryan Reynolds which is exactly what this role needs. Reynolds’ normal antics would be too much for the tempo of this movie. Jessica Simpson only has the demand of being attractive and an object of desire; a role she fills perfectly, although a few of her lines are still wince-worthy. Dax Shepherd is a bit over the top in the villain role, but it works. The true standout performances come from the supporting comedic roles, filled with actors like Andy Dick, Harland Williams, Brian George, Tim Bagley, and Napoleon Dynamite’s Pedro, Efren Ramirez. With a cast able to capture laughs in just about every direction, the film keeps the audience snickering, if not making them laugh a little louder.
Indeed, Employee accomplishes more chuckles with a little subtlety than with its attempts at the big laughs, although there are more than a few of those. Observant audience members will notice just how much the employees of Super Club abuse the store’s merchandise, from using broken products as bargaining chips to having gallon buckets of ice cream and massive bags of chips in their homes. People willing to consider the movie even further will find hilarity in the way the employees of Super Club treat their retail jobs so seriously, as if cleaning up that spill or the speed of a cashier’s pass-through rate really matters.
Dane Cook and Dax Shepard may not offer the best underdog comedy this year, and the movie certainly doesn’t stand up to Wedding Crashers (which shared the same producers as the advertisements are more than happy to remind everyone) but it’s still an enjoyable, silly little comedy. Consider it along the same guilty pleasure lines as Jingle All the Way or Dodgeball or a more viewer friendly version of that Steve Carell comedy. It’s good for lighthearted fun, just don’t expect any life changing experience watching two store clerks competing for the grand title of Employee of the Month.
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