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Office Space

Review by Elias Savada
Posted 19 February 1999

  Written and Directed by Mike Judge.

Starring Ron Livingston, Jennifer Aniston,
Stephen Root, Gary Cole, David Herman,
Ajay Naidu, Richard Riehle, Diedrich Bader,
Alexandra Wentworth, John C. McGinley,
and Paul Willson.

Celebrated animator Mike Judge makes the jump from boob tube cartoon series to live action, big screen canvas with this Dilbertesque foray that should run neither hot nor cold on your must-see list this weekend. It’s a lukewarm, lighthearted yet wry stab at office politics that will strike a responsive chord among many a 9-to-5er. Last year saw the disastrous attempt by South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker to make a similar reel life leap with Baseketball and Orgazmo, both very avoidable, even from your local Blockbuster. I’d rather clip my toe nails for 90 minutes than have to sit through those imbecilic catastrophes again. Judge’s cross-platform run from his successful MTV’s Beavis and Butt-head and Fox’s King of the Hill is a much more enjoyable romp, and I’ve put my nail clipper away to show my appreciation.

Heavy on ensemble acting and irregular, offbeat characterizations, Office Space explores the stop-and-go, work-all-day, cubicle purgatory at INITECH, a white-collar computer corporation that treats its employees like dirt under the iron rule of its smarmy divisional vice president Bill Lumbergh (A Simple Plan’s Gary Cole in the big bad wolf role). The company-logo embossed coffee cup is surgically attached to his hand and he’s the only person excited about the firm’s forthcoming Hawaiian shirt day. Based on Judge’s series of Milton animated shorts, all which played off well on Saturday Night Live back in 1993, Office Space relegates that nebbishy character to lesser, but still substantial, billing under stars Ron Livingston (Swingers and TV’s Townies) and Friends’ Jennifer Aniston. Livingston’s Peter Gibbons is a semi-ambitious Y2K programmer in a nowhere job, on the verge of a nervous breakdown grounded in bureaucratic overload and a disintegrating love life. Aniston’s Joanna is a flair-deficient waitress at a nearby TGIFridays-like establishment, where she’s ready to give her condescending manager a well deserved flip and Peter a night on the town (thanks to a mutual interest in after dark reruns of Kung Fu). The catalyst that breaks Peter’s humdrum routine is an interrupted session with an occupational hypnotherapist that leaves our hero in a suspended state of what-me-worry? calm after the doctor keels over mid-session with a fatal heart attack.

Peter’s sudden, unexplained absence from the office is greeted with whispered horror by his co-workers and co-commiserators, the unfortunately-name Michael Bolton (Mad TV’s David Herman) and Samir (Lateline’s Ajay Naidu), burdened with an unpronounceable surname, both soon to be on the short rung of the employment ladder thanks to several efficiency experts (John C. McGinley and Paul Willson) who are downsizing the work force. But Peter’s new found frankness -- that he works, at most, 15 minutes a week (between day-dreaming, goofing off, and playing Tetris on his office computer) -- and dry sense of humor invigorates the motivational consultants, who reward his absenteeism with a promotion. In a fitting payback and ode to early retirement, a plot is hatched, a la Richard Pryor’s in Superman 3, that strikes a reluctant tone among the threesome and carries the remainder of the film. Stephen Root, a.k.a. Jimmy James on NBC’s NewsRadio, is the inspirational, bespectacled introvert Milton, hiding behind bad skin, a wall of paper, and a red Swingline stapler. Like Bean, he is a man of few words, mumbling in tongues (well it sounds foreign, at least), perhaps about a judgment day in the not-too-distant future.

Meanwhile, Peter’s unofficial sounding board is Lawrence, his next door neighbor, either in person or through their apartment building’s paper-thin walls. This frustrated wacko who gets his kicks watching breast exam public service announcements on television, is played with beer-guzzling gusto by Diedrich Bader (Jethro in the feature version of The Beverly Hillbillies, but better recognized as Oswald from The Drew Carey Show).

Filmed in Austin, Texas (where Judge lives) at the same time Varsity Blues was shooting nearby, the film actually has a closer affinity to Rushmore, another Texas-based production emphasizing the similar theme of childish revenge. As a paean to beleaguered employees everywhere, Office Space is a sufficient diversion, especially if you are stuck in a work place of comparable ilk populated with corporate types who make your life miserable (Thank goodness I’m self-employed!). Mike Judge may make your bitter existence a little more bearable in the short run, until you head back to your cubby-hole the next day. That is, if you don’t get any sweetly inflammatory ideas that will make the next queue you stand in not one at the neighborhood multiplex, but at your local employment office. As for Milton, he’d rather relax at the beach.

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