Employee of the Month

Employee of the Month (2006)
Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Cast: Dane Cook, Dax Shepard, Jessica Simpson, Efren Ramirez, Harland Williams
Extras: Commentary Tracks, Deleted Scenes, Featurettes, Outtakes, and More

"He's the alpha male of the store. Chicks always go after the alpha male… they're like lions, kings of the desert. And you? You're just a little, tiny fieldmouse dangling in the teeth of the lion while he's banging your chick."

Love him or hate him, there's no denying Dane Cook hit the stand-up comic scene with a tour-de-force series of high octane antics and frantic ramblings that earned him leagues of fans overnight. He never tells jokes, per se, but you'll immediately feel at home if you enjoy the delivery, honed to a modern, hyperactive display of energy and testosterone. Unfortunately, "Employee of the Month", Cook's first feature film, is a PG-13 romp through "Clerks" territory that succeeds at little more than neutering what makes Dane Cook the stand-up comic so funny to so many people.

When Zack (Cook), a slacker at a local superstore, discovers that a beautiful new employee (Jessica Simpson) only has a thing for ambitious men, he launches a campaign to become the next employee of the month. Standing in his way is a super-suck-up boy scout (Dax Shepard) that often earns that top honor without much competition from his fellow workers. I already mentioned "Clerks" and I'll mention it again… "Employee of the Month" is a softer clone of that phenomenal, indie hit and I couldn't shake the severe feeling of déjà vu I felt throughout.

Cook is fun-loving and amusing, but he's so hampered and limited by the rating of the film that he loses a lot of the pizzazz that makes him watchable on HBO. Everything that seems unpredictable and dangerous in his comedy is reduced to the bare essentials for his performance in "Employee of the Month". As the movie plays out more and more like a basic romantic comedy, it fails to push ahead of the crowd with an identity that sets it apart from better tales of loveable losers like the recent "40 Year Old Virgin".

Dax Shepard, Efren Ramirez, and the other supporting characters are nice additions but fail to bring anything fresh to the proceedings. In the end, we're left with Simpson, a limp, soggy saltine of an actress that emotes less convincingly than a dry-erase board. She drained the life out of every scene in which she appeared and I couldn't get past her obvious, cue-card dependency for a second. There's a slight sliver of chemistry between Cook and Simpson but it usually comes to be because of the playfulness Cook brings in abundant supply.

It's hard to absolutely hate a film that's so good natured and wears its heart on its sleeve. I was genuinely impressed with its avoidance of toilet humor and the conventional gags of lesser teen comedies. However, it didn't have enough punch to keep me interested from one minute to the next. The movie would have benefited from more balance and more comedy, assuming it could find a way to keep things intelligent and unique.

The video presentation, like the film, can be categorized as average at best. Presented in 1080p using the AVC MPEG-4 codec, "Employee of the Month" seems faded and colorless at times. Every now and then characters will pop off the screen with amazing texture and clarity… while at other times they seem flat and more shallow than Simpson's acting. The transfer is technically nice and lacks artifacts, noise, and dirt… but the film fails to look much better than similar movies on standard DVD. The biggest let down though is in regards to skin tones. Generally, one of the first things I notice when reviewing a high definition release on either format is the more realistic coloring of actors' skin… it's typically fuller and more defined, adding visual depth to the characters. In this transfer, skin tones are smooth, drift toward blue hues, and create the illusion of watching people on a stormy day.

The audio on tap for this release is nicely constructed but boring, leaving a large amount of ambience in the design offices. For a gigantic store in the vain of Wal-Mart, there's a noticeable lack of quality in the soundscape. The dialogue is occasionally plagued with slight reverb and echoes sound unnatural. The sound effects are uninteresting and most of the soundfield was produced by my front speakers. The soundtrack was the worst offender, providing a predictable collection of trendy, pop tunes that didn't enhance the emotions of the characters for me at all. I've complained about it before, but when a film like "Garden State" can assemble such an eclectic range of songs for its characters, it proves that a soundtrack should consist of more than an unrelated group of licensed nonsense.

At least the Blu-Ray release of "Employee of the Month" doesn't skimp on special features. There are two audio commentaries, one with Dane Cook and director Greg Coolidge, and the second with the director left all to himself. Coolidge's commentary track is a waste of time and he consistently bogs down the proceedings with technical banter that seems as if it will never end. I'm sure this is fascinating from the perspective of a film student, but I'm not that guy. The track with Cook is more lively and he seems more at ease in an unrated format (although he still never lets loose in anything resembling scenes from his comedy specials). Either commentary is still best left to fans of the film as there's nothing here to justify wasting an extra three hours of your life.

Next up, there's a collection of deleted (read: extended) scenes that add nothing to the film except my congratulations to the director for cutting such unnecessary material. Beyond this, there's a blooper reel that provides a few more laughs, a handful of ad-libbed scenes (featuring the terribly annoying Andy Dick) that are worthless, a few more ad-libs with the much funnier Harland Williams that are worth checking out, and a smattering collection of featurettes that pull together more outtakes, interviews, and character mocumentaries (similar to those found on "Talladega Nights") that can easily be skipped. Almost all of these additions are best left to those who seriously enjoyed the film.

Overall, I generally enjoyed the movie as an average romantic comedy but never felt it broke any impressive ground. It's similarities to other, funnier films, particuarly "Clerks" and "Office Space", is undeniable, but only results in making "Employee of the Month" dry and unoriginal. Rent it if you have nothing better to see… or if you're a fan of the genre. Otherwise, this is strictly a movie for loyal fans of Dane Cook and your time should be spent with more clever material.