90 minutes | Rated: R
Opened: Friday, February 19, 1999
Written & directed by Mike Judge
Starring Ron Livingston, Jennifer Aniston, David Herman, Ajay Naidu, Stephen Root, Gary Cole, Diedrich Bader & Richard Riehle
SMALL SCREEN SHRINKAGE: 10%|
LETTERBOX: NOT NECESSARY
Plays like a sitcom, but 10 times funnier than anything in prime time. The only loss to video will be the theater full of people laughing.
VIDEO RELEASE: 8/31/99
"Space" a sharp satire of the stale, numbing existence of the American office drone
Mike Judge has an abstruse, shadowy, pessimistic but frightfully observant sense of humor.
The scruffy animator and humor-askewed creator of "Beavis and Butthead" and "King of the Hill," he has a style to his comedy that just drips irony from every punch line. Judge, it seems, sees civilization crumbling around him and thinks to himself, "This if funny stuff."
It's this corkscrew point of view that made "Beavis and Butthead" a perceptive satire of teenage apathy, even though on the surface it appealed only to the gene pool bottom feeders that the show was about. It's also the reason "Office Space," Judge's first live-action feature as a writer and director, is such a sharp satire of the stale, numbing existence of the American office drone.
The movie stars Ron Livingston ("Swingers") as Peter Gibbons, a discontented cubicle jockey at a nondescript computer firm whose ears ring at night with the sounds of the office and who spends his Friday afternoons dodging boss after boss (he has eight of them) to avoid mandates of weekend overtime.
But when Peter is dragged to a hypnotherapist by his estranged girlfriend, he dumb-lucks into a whole new perspective on life. Just as he's being put under by this quack, the shrink has a heart attack and dies, leaving Peter half-hypnotized and in a halcyon haze.
Ignoring his girlfriends accusations of insensitivity, he goes home and blissfully sleeps trough what was supposed to be a working weekend. On Monday, he lackadaisically shows up at the office in the late afternoon, parks in boss' spot and, during a meeting with a pair of efficiency experts brought in to clean house, explains his new philosophy: "It isn't that I'm lazy, I just don't care."
Of course, the efficiency experts are so taken aback by this revolutionary thinking that Peter is put on the fast track for promotion.
"Office Space" is based on a series of animated shorts Judge created some years back that resembled an R-rated "Dilbert." Those shorts featured an mousy, inconsequential office nerd named Milton -- the kind of guy who comes to work with a full Thermos and an empty-briefcase.
In the movie, Milton has been regulated to a supporting role -- perfectly underplayed by Stephen Root, the cocky billionaire station owner on "News Radio," in inch-thick glasses and acne scars -- in favor of Peter, a more vital character and a cynic's Everyman, who decides if he's being promoted, he's going to help his friends who got canned (David Herman and Ajay Naidu).
The three of them hatch a computer-virus embezzlement scheme that goes awry, sending Peter hurtling back toward the stressed-out lifestyle he'd just overcome.
Livingston's deeply embedded smirk gives great personality to Peter's newfound pluck. His sublime indifference to what anyone else thinks leads him to jump at the kind of chances most people pass on, and its a delightfully vicarious experience.
At lunch one day, he stops the waitress he's had a crush on for months (Jennifer Aniston) and just blurts out "I want to take you out to dinner then go back to my place and watch 'Kung Fu.'"
Later, he goes fishing in the morning before showing up at the office in the late afternoon, gutting the fish at his desk and disassembling one wall of his cubicle to give himself a view out the window, which finally dumbfounds his most direct boss, a coffee cup-clutching Prozac patient, played beautifully by Gary Cole, who has had all his humanity sensitivity-trained right out of him.
Judge's comedic scrutiny of the day-to-day weirdness we take for granted gives "Office Space" a refreshingly slanted sense of humor. He can take something as workaday as a commute-hour traffic jam and turn it into an opening scene that has tears of laughter running down people's faces.
He also shows a talent for mimicry that could be put to good use in the near-comatose spoof genre. At one point, he adds a rap soundtrack to a slow-motion scene of three co-workers take a baseball bat to a fax machine. The result looks like "Boyz N the Hood" transplanted to an office park. It's one of the funniest scenes in the movie.
These kinds of gags make "Office Space" funnier than the same story would have been from anyone else in Hollywood because this kind of left field humor simply wouldn't occur to 99 percent of the comedy writers out there.