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Weekly Alibi Work Sucks, Movie Doesn't

By Devin D. O'Leary

FEBRUARY 23, 1999:  Mike Judge made his mark as the creator of MTV's notorious animated smash "Beavis & Butt-head"--a series that was far smarter than most people, including the show's fans, gave it credit for. For his next foray into animation, Judge developed the markedly more mature "King of the Hill" for FOX. The show was a critical and ratings success until it was yanked from its cushy Sunday night timeslot and dumped onto Tuesdays, where it promptly lost half its audience (but retained its critical hype). Now Judge continues his outward maturation process by writing and directing his first live-action film. Like his previous efforts, Office Space is a rabidly funny comedy, the more blatant humor of which masks a subtle, biting lampoon of modern daily life.

Office Space is loosely based on a series of short animated clips Judge made for "Saturday Night Live" a few years ago. The "Milton" shorts featured a mumbly, much-abused office worker who silently vowed to blow up the building every time the boss took away his stapler or moved his desk. In the expanded live-action "Milton" universe, Ron Livingston stars as Peter Gibbons, a workaday slob slaving away at a soul-sucking corporate giant known as Initech Industries. Peter and his fellow white collar slaves are slowly, quietly and quite irrevocably going insane between paychecks. There's Samir (Ajay Naidu), the short-tempered software engineer fostering a growing feud with a temperamental fax machine. There's the unfortunately named Michael Bolton (David Herman), the white bread computer geek who listens incessantly to hard-core gangsta rap (but nervously rolls up his windows and locks the car doors whenever a black person strolls by). And, of course, there's good old Milton ("Newsradio's" Steven Root) being mercilessly abused by smarmy boss Mr. Lumbergh (Gary Cole).

Peter is the typical directionless, unhappy office worker until one day he has a sudden epiphany and decides he's just not going to work any more. He's not quitting, mind you; he's just not going to work. Miraculously, Peter's lackadaisical new attitude--which mostly comprises wearing shorts to the office and playing Tetris all day--results in both a promotion and a cute new girlfriend (Jennifer Aniston).

Office Space is a comedy of little moments. "King of the Hill" proves that Judge is a sharp observer of human behavior, and he's captured Office Space's air of corporate frustration perfectly without resorting to "Dilbert"-style flights of fantasy. Tiny, easily-missed jokes--like the hideous Bennigan's-style chain eatery "Chotchkies" where the walls are covered in junk and the employees are required to wear "a minimum 15 pieces of flair"--are the ones viewers should be on the lookout for.

Office Space doesn't waste a lot of time concerning itself with plot. Judge, it seems, would rather spend his time telling jokes than telling a story. Eventually, some conflict occurs when Peter's pals Samir and Michael are fired in a corporate downsizing move. Peter comes up with a plan to skim money from Initech's company credit union. Naturally, the plan goes awry and the boys must cover up their misdeed. But viewers shouldn't waste their time waiting for the big pay-off. There isn't one. On a similar note, Jennifer Aniston is largely superfluous in the "new girlfriend" role. Viewers looking for a satisfying romantic sub-plot will come up empty. Towards the end, there is the tiniest of hiccups in the relationship, but it's resolved almost before it begins.

To say that Office Space is a great script is probably stretching the truth. Judge needs a few more long-form efforts under his belt (the second Beavis & Butt-head feature will be the next) before he establishes himself as a solid filmmaker. Still, his funny bone is in the right place. You'd be hard pressed to find a funnier flick, or--if you work in an office--a more painfully accurate one. Call in sick and catch a matinee.


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