Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Promotion - on DVD 9/2

It seems fitting that so close to Labor Day, The Promotion, an ode to everyman and the average American worker, releases on DVD on September 2nd.

This little indie flick with the big name cast (Seann William Scott, John C. Reilly, Jenna Fischer, Lili Taylor, Fred Armisen, Gil Bellows and Bobby Cannavale) slipped through the cracks playing in limited release some time ago. Coincidentally (or not), the film depicts characters that are often overlooked as well. We see plenty of druglords and hookers, cops and lawyers, vampires and superheroes--but how often do you see a movie about two grocery store assistant managers vying for the same promotion?

The story details the complications when nice, earnest assistant store manager Doug Stauber (Seann William Scott) find his shoo-in position as the manager of the new Donaldson's grocery store jeopardized by the arrival of Canadian nice guy Richard Welhner (John C. Reilly) who is applying for the very same opening. So, we have a hero that is too nice and an "antagonist"that is too nice and a movie that is, well...too nice.

Written and directed by Steve Conrad, The Promotion plays in a very realistic, almost docu-drama style. Picture a reality TV show about a grocery where the "actors" weren't coached with snappy lines ala The Hills and the scenes weren't staged ala The Bachelor and the cast wasn't selected for maximum drama and volatility ala The Real World and the footage wasn't heavily edited to create drama, tension and a chronology that didn't exist in real life like--oh, just about every single "reality" TV show. The dialogue is extremely simplistic and sort of flat as it's delivered in a very dead-pan manner by the cast. The absurdities and ironies of life as a grocery store worker could have used a bit more "oomph" in order to really mine the comic potential.

Hey, I wasn't wanting or expecting some over-the-top Farrelly Brothers movie! But look how The Office makes the mundane and eccentric of regular life and pushes the envelope a bit to drolly illuminate the inanities of the work world. The script lacks the heavily ironic subtext of The Weather Man as well as the evocative emotional stakes of The Pursuit of Happyness--both of which were written by Conrad. So obviously he has it in him--it just wasn't as evident as it could have been in The Promotion.

There are, however, some insightful and funny moments. My favorite bits were a small cameo by Masi Oka (aka "Hiro" from Heroes) playing a very dry loan officer and yet another scene-stealing performance by the fabulous (and uncredited) Jason Bateman as a motivational retreat leader. The corporate retreat was a hugely hysterical scene--too bad there wasn't more like it in the movie. Too bad there wasn't more Bateman in the movie! Rather than ramping up the conflict between the two nice guys who in ordinary circumstances would probably be good friends, Conrad keeps the antagonism fairly low-key.

Instead, he tries to milk comedic juice out of Reilly's character, who becomes more and more absurd as layers are peeled away. Especially the one layer that reveals a KISS tattoo on his chest. Yeah it's a sight gag and it's good for a laugh, but really? Also inexplicable was Lili Taylor's Scottish accent. Included in the DVD extras, there's a phone call between Seann William Scott and Steve Conrad where Scott is trying to convince Conrad to let his character have an accent since John C. Reilly's character has one. It's really funny--but I couldn't help but wonder what was the reasoning behind Taylor's accent. I can almost hear her saying, "Can Lori be from Scotland? I've been working on a Scottish accent...I'd love to get a chance to use it!"

Also included in the DVD extras is commentary director Steve Conrad along with producers Jessika Borisczky Goyera and Steven A. Jones, the standard "Making Of" featurette, six deleted scenes, some really funny promotional webisodes and outtakes of the infamous "monster face" scene.

Overall, The Promotion is a warm-hearted, bittersweet look at everyday people who are, in the words of Richard Welhner, "all just out here tryin' to get some food. Sometimes we bump into each other..."

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