Movie review: ‘Office Space’

Mike Judge’s “Office Space” is one of those films that take more than one viewing to gain a full appreciation. Now let me be the first to say that I also took several viewings to appreciate the genius of “A Christmas Story” and that “Office Space” doesn’t hold a candle to it in either the creative or acting categories. “Office Space” doesn’t have bad acting – in fact a couple of supporting players are outstanding – but it needs to grow on you and it becomes easier if you are cynical about the soul of corporations (or lack thereof). “Office Space” is very easy to find and although you wouldn’t think a film about office rebellion could be “R” rated, this one does have its adult moments. Still, try it out again if you didn’t like it to begin with … I think you’ll be surprised.

‘Office Space’
(1999; 89 minutes; rated R; directed by Mike Judge and starring Ron Livingston, Jennifer Aniston and David Herman)

THE BOBS HAVE IT … YEAAAAAAA!

A film doesn’t have to have good box office sales to be a hit. “Office Space” is a prime example of this genre as it is quoted throughout offices worldwide even today, nearly 16 years after its release in the U.S. It gained its cult status through video distribution and even contributed to a stapler company having to bring back a red stapler that is a key prop in “Office Space” and people still joking about restaurant servers’ “flair.”

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For all its biting commentary about the stupidity of corporate minions; its fantasy outlets for white collar workers everywhere; to even the loser fantasy of a laid off worker getting into an accident and collecting a big settlement, “Office Space” is not a good movie. Sorry, but director/writer Mike Judge has shown much more creativity with his works from TV’s “Beavis and Butthead” and its movie counterpart as well as “King of the Hill” than he does here, but somehow “Office Space” sticks with you.

In “Office Space,” which is based on Judge’s cartoon/animated short “Milton” (which has appeared on “Saturday Night Live”), Ron Livingston plays “Peter Gibbons,” who is a worker who is not only bored but absolutely hates his dreary job and office environment more every single day. He has a couple of friends who might not be any happier, but they’re pleased to be working. Livingston’s sometimes conscience lives next door in the persona of a neighbor who is a laborer and doesn’t have any problem with work.

Livingston has an epiphany while in a hypnosis session and begins to act on his fantasy of not working. While goofing off the first day, Livingston draws up the courage to talk to a woman he’s been admiring from afar (Jennifer Aniston as “Joanna”) and they begin dating (she’s as fed up with work as he). Now, instead of going to the office he goes fishing; he knocks down part of his cubicle to get a view; and tells the layoff consultants (“the Bobs”) at his company how he doesn’t work and spills his negative attitude on them.

So what happens? He gets a big promotion while his hard-working friends get fired. The trio plans their revenge (setting up a computer bug to steal from the firm) and it goes awry but a huge fire at the company conceals their crime. After a major breakup, Livingston and Aniston are back on again – and all this is a simple concept in Mike Judge’s mind, I guess.

Livingston is in both good and bad form at times in “Office Space.” For the most part he’s spot-on as the white collar software worker in a drab existence, but other times it’s as if he lost focus in the role. He’s especially good talking to the consultants where he tells them he only works 15 minutes a week, habitually comes in late and that he’s not lazy it’s just “that I don’t care.” Livingston was much better in the acclaimed HBO series “Band of Brothers” and has also been in “Swingers” and the gritty, nasty casino film “The Cooler.”

Aniston as “Joanna” appears to catch Livingston’s good-bad form here. At times she does a wonderful job – especially interactions with her boss at the restaurant – but others it’s almost as if she’s mailing it in. However, also like Livingston, she gets a passing grade here and her talent is why the character didn’t sink into the mire. Aniston’s character doesn’t wear enough “flair” (buttons on her server’s uniform suspenders) and draws the ire of her boss. Aniston was much better with Adam Sandler in “Just Go With It” (click here for my review) and was a bunch better in both “Horrible Bosses” (click here for my review) as well as “We’re the Millers.”

Gary Cole as “Bill Lumbergh” does the best work of all the supporting actors. His droll “yeaaaaaaa” is a signature of the film (bad bosses everywhere are still mocked with this one) and he does a great job in sucking the life out everyone and every situtation he encounters. It’s a much different role for him than he did as “Mike Brady” in “The Brady Bunch Movie” and its sequel. He shows his versatility in films diverse as Clint Eastwood’s “In the Line of Fire” as well as the doper film “Pineapple Express.”

Nearly as good are the two “Bobs,” who are consultants called in for a round of firings at the fictional “Initech” where the film is set. The consultants are:

  • John C. McGinley plays “Bob Slydell” and is the lead consultant. He’s gleeful in his approach to firings but joins his partner in loving Livingston’s candor. McGinley is very accomplished and is a supremely good supporting character (take “Platoon” for example) and it shows here. He has also been in TV’s “Scrubs,” “Point Break” (click here for my review) and “The Rock.”
  • Paul Willson plays “Bob Porter” and is the slightly more laid-back sidekick to McGinley. He’s not as expressive as McGinley, but he does hold up his end here. Willson has also been in dozens of TV roles including on “Cheers.”

Superb comedic actor Stephen Root plays “Milton Waddams,” who is the Mike Judge character on whom the film is based. Root is pitch-perfect as the creepy, mumbling office drone who loves his red Swingline stapler. With bottle-thick glasses and his sotto voce threats, Root ultimately gets the money that the boys stole and burns down the office complex. Root has also been on TV’s “NewsRadio” as well as “No Country for Old Men.”

Here’s a quick roundup of other actors’ work here:

  • David Herman gets near top-line billing as “Michael Bolton” (no, he’s not related!) but like co-worker Ajay Naidu as “Samir Nagheenanajar,” he doesn’t do much with his character. Herman has been in “Dude, Where’s My Car” while Naidu was in “Requiem for a Dream.”
  • A little better is Diedrich Bader as “Lawrence,” who is Livingston’s next door neighbor and gives him advice about how to avoid working weekends. Bader would do a marvelous “Jethro Bodine” in the movie version of “The Beverly Hillbillies” and was also in “Napoleon Dynamite.”
  • Orlando Jones does a terrific small part as “Steve” the magazine salesman who gives the guys advice about money laundering. It’s too bad he wasn’t one of Livingston’s co-workers instead of being in this part. Jones has also been in “Drumline.”
  • Richard Riehle plays “Tom Smykowski,” who is the useless employee who gets laid off, hit by a drunk driver and collects a big settlement. He has also been in “Transformers: Age of Extinction.”
  • Greg Pitts is “Drew” and his only acting attribute is to show his “Oh” face (watch the movie and you’ll understand). Pitts was also in “Coyote Ugly.”

Finally, creator and director Mike Judge does a bit part here as Aniston’s restaurant manager “Stan” (he’s billed as “William King”) and is smooth in the role, even as Aniston flips him the bird.

Office Space” was a bomb at the box office and placed 121st at the U.S. box office with only $10.8 million in ticket sales (coming in just ahead of “The Astronaut’s Wife”), according to Box Office Mojo. Worldwide, “Office Space” made an additional $2 million and then another $7.9 million in video sales, according to Wiki. With a $10 million budget it wasn’t considered a winner in the pocketbook, either. The No. 1 film of the year was “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” with $431 million.

Assorted cast notes (via IMDb.com):

  • Aniston’s character’s name is “Joanna,” which is her real middle name.
  • Todd Duffey plays “Brian,” who is the energetic server counterpart to Aniston and has tons of “flair.” He’s also been in “God’s Country.”

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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