The economy was going good in 1986 when “Head Office” came out and it was nearly two years later that “Black Monday” struck on the world’s markets and made sure there was little humor in the financial industry. However, “Head Office” took aim before the crash and used ham-handed humor to tear off a piece of corporate hide with jabs that were just as truthful as they were funny or tasteless. Check it out, if you can find it.
(1986; 90 minutes; rated PG-13; directed by Ken Finkleman and starring Judge Reinhold, Eddie Albert and Richard Masur)
IT ONLY MAKES SENSE IF YOU’RE WITH THE COMPANY
One pure pleasure of watching “Head Office” from 1986 is how Eddie Albert, the exasperated but pure-of-heart lawyer-turned-farmer in TV’s “Green Acres,” explodes from one scene to the next as the all-powerful corporate chief “Pete Helmes,” who relishes taking over countries, destroying lives and even keeps in touch with the little guys by reviewing delinquent phone accounts. “Diss-connect,” he spits out with contempt.
Another pure pleasure is the list of “lessons” given to corporate rookie “Jack Issel” played by Judge Reinhold, who was fresh from his roles in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and “Beverly Hills Cop.” The laundry list of lessons is given by Richard Masur, who plays corporate-wise mentor “Max Landsberger,” as a running commentary throughout the film. One is gold: “Lesson No. 79. When the tough get going, the weak get screwed.”
The film is only so-so when taken as a whole and has the feel-good ending that you’d expect here. Still, it’s a comedy with a message, not deep drama with a message (unless the filmmakers wanted that and I just missed it).
Another pure pleasure is the supporting characters, who are manic, backstabbing, lecherous and uber-ambitious and actors such as Danny DeVito, Rick Moranis and Jane Seymour, who each turn out exemplary efforts.
“Head Office” focuses on Reinhold, a graduate fresh from MBA school and who comes to the attention of Albert’s company because his father is an influential U.S. senator who can help on moving a company factory from the U.S. to another country.
So, up the corporate ladder goes Reinhold. “They keep promoting me but I don’t do anything,” he tells Masur. Another way to success, Masur says, is “Lesson No. 4. The secret to survival is never make a decision” and there’s a cut to Moranis jabbering into his phone about who made a decision on a bad PR campaign, “I didn’t make that decision! I approved somebody else’s decision! Don’t you know the difference between a decision and approval?”
Subplots include a corporate culture dominated by Gestapo-like tactics (the filmmakers love Nazi imagery, including having a German-speaking presenter at a corporate “prayer breakfast” who resembles Josef Goebbels); an executive successfully sleeping her way to the top (Seymour); and doomed characters lost too soon: DeVito as “Frank Stedman,” who commits suicide when his career crash-lands figuratively in a company stock fiasco and literally in the company’s entrance fountain; and Moranis as “Howard Gross,” the over-excitable PR executive who dies of a heart attack. Neither of these is worth a spoiler alert since they both go by the 25th minute of the film.
DeVito and Moranis each bring physical humor to their roles as well as the verbal adrenaline necessary to make each a success. Moranis is especially funny since he’s always on the phone and blathering things like, “I’ve got a dead father-in-law who’s pissed off because he’s in semi-private” when listing the woes of his life to whomever happens to be talking to him.
The romantic entanglement comes through Lori-Nan Engler who plays “Rachael Helmes.” She’s an activist out to save the town that Albert wants to destroy because it can be a tax credit. It also turns out she’s the boss’ daughter and that, of course, is this film’s only plot twist.
The shots at corporate America come quick and run throughout the film, from the obsequious butt-kisser Ron Frazier who plays “Bob Nixon” to the company’s message that it’s losing money on the U.S. plant and needs to relocate. When Reinhold remarks that that statement is not true, Masur comes back with, “No, but it’s our side of the story.”
Near the end, one of Reinhold’s remarks kind of sums up the mood: “This place is totally bananas. Any reasonable, normal person would have quit a long time ago.”
“Head Office” made a paltry $3.3 million and was the 123rd ranked film at the box office for 1986 (I could not find an estimated budget for this one).
Here are some cast notes (via IMDb.com):
- “Head Office” was Engler’s final acting credit with only two other films, including “Blow Out” with John Travolta, and three TV credits.
- In his acting career, Albert was nominated for two Oscars (both for supporting roles … “Roman Holiday” in 1953 and “The Heartbreak Kid” in 1972) among his more than 200 roles and before becoming an actor he was a circus trapeze flier. His real name was Edward Albert Heimberger and he died in 2005 at the age of 99 of pneumonia.
- Don Novello, best known as “Father Guido Sarducci” on “Saturday Night Live,” is the laid-back company chauffeur.
- Boxing promoter Don King has his only film credit here with a hilarious send-up as an INC executive gushing in his trademark way. King, in his acting outside his boxing promotions, was on episodes of “Miami Vice” and “Knight Rider.” He even did an episode of “Blossom.”
- Merritt Butrick plays oily “John Hudson” and his career credits end in 1989 after appearing on a string of TV shows and in films such as “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” as “Capt. James T. Kirk’s” son “David” and reprising that role in “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.”