Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 26, 2006)
When anyone makes a list of cult classics from the Nineties, 1999ís Office Space clearly must occupy a spot. Along with 1998ís The Big Lebowski, it offers one of the decadeís films that truly defines the concept of the ďcult classicĒ. Both were largely ignored during their theatrical runs but both came to earn substantial and passionate audiences on home video.
And during the fall of 2005, both appeared as special edition DVDs that greatly disappointed most of those fans. Iíll address that side of the Office Space disc later, but now I just want to discuss the film itself. Space introduces us to the staff at Initech. We concentrate on cubicle drone Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) and his pals Samir Nagheenanajar (Ajay Naidu) and Michael Bolton (David Herman). Peter pines for cute waitress Joanna (Jennifer Aniston) but doesnít pursue her because he thinks he should work things out with his girlfriend Anne (Alexandra Wentworth).
This leads him to a hypnotherapist (Micheal McShane). After Peter states that he hates his job and everydayís worse than the last, Dr. Swanson induces a soothing, pleasant state of mind. However, Dr. Swanson keels over before he can snap Peter out of this condition.
Because of this, Peter stays permanently content. He stops caring about his job and lives life on his own terms. This means that he comes across as very confident, and that pays off in many ways. Peter impresses the Initech consultants (John C. McGinley and Paul Willson) brought in to orchestrate layoffs; his straight talk pegs him to rise up the corporate ladder. Peter also breaks up with Anne and quickly lands Joanna.
All isnít perfect, though. When the consultants lay off Samir and Michael, Peter leads them in a computer virus scheme designed to earn money. Ala Superman III, this takes fractions of pennies from various transactions and sends them to a special account. The money adds up and becomes substantial over time. However, things go awry, and the rest of the movie follows the results.
When Office Space hit in 1999, writer/director Mike Judge remained best known for Beavis and Butt-Head. Heck, I suppose heís still best known for that series, and that may have affected the filmís reception. Viewers who expected it to fall along the same lines as B&B would be disappointed, for Space much more closely echoes the low-key humor of Judgeís series King of the Hill.
Not that I mean to say that Space and Hill are similar. The two efforts look at dissimilar subjects and donít connect in obvious thematic ways. However, they both derive much of their humor from small twists of real-life situations. Theyíre subtle pieces that donít often provide gales of laughter. Instead, they resonate with truth and quiet amusement.
Usually I criticize films that lack coherent stories, but in the case of Office Space, I feel the opposite. The flick works best when it lacks any real narrative. For its first half, itís a blast. Although Iíve never worked in a setting like Initech, I can understand the humor and connect to the gags. The film offers a veritable catchphrase factory as we meet all of the personalities at the company.
Once the formal plot kicks into motion, though, the flick starts to sag. In its initial half, it takes more of a Seinfeld line. As we watch Peter succeed at work due to his unusual behavior, it strongly echoes the Seinfeld in which George prospered when he did the opposite of his usual instincts. Space doesnít rip off that show, but it follows a similar line.
This gets lost along the way as the movie digs into its criminal caper elements. Thatís a shame, for the second half provides substantially less humor and entertainment. The characters feel less real and the situations lack the same punch. It seems like Judge panicked and decided he couldnít make a movie about nothing so he tacked on a plot.
Thatís too bad since the first half is so good. I think the story of Peterís ascension is more than enough to carry the film, especially since its main pleasures come from the little moments. For instance, one of the few memorable moments in the second half occurs when borderline autistic coworker Milton (Stephen Root) frets whether heíll get a piece of a birthday cake. Space needs more of that and less of a criminal caper.
As an aside, Space presents some of the most rampant product placement Iíve seen. Everywhere you look, we see Pepsi ads or Pepsi products. Joanna drinks what appears to be the same giant Pepsi coming and going from a party! They should retitle the flick Pepsi Presents Office Space.
Even with those negatives, I still think Office Space succeeds. The first half engenders enough good will to make the second half tolerable. Itís the kind of movie you can watch repeatedly and still enjoy.