CORPORATE ANIMALS (2019)

September 19, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. Filmmaker Patrick Brice is building a career on films that leave us with an unsettled, even conflicted feeling on whether we should “like” them or not. He certainly has little time for ‘normal’ characters, and heroic behavior rarely enters a scene. His latest is written by Sam Bain (PEEP SHOW, and son of Emmy winning director Bill Bain), and it fits perfectly into the offbeat comedy realm of Mr. Brice’s previous two CREEP films (with Mark Duplass) and THE OVERNIGHT (2015).

The film kicks off was an advertisement (in the pre-production stage) for Incredible Edibles, a bio-friendly company that produces edible cutlery (a comical visual). Featured in the ad is the company’s ruthless CEO Lucy, played by Demi Moore. Lucy has arranged a Team Building outing for her employees in the mountains of New Mexico. The expedition is led by Brandon (Ed Helms, THE HANGOVER), a Bear Gryllis type who easily evaluates the team’s incongruent pieces. After advising against Lucy’s demand for the “Advanced” trail, Brandon gives in since ‘the check has cleared’. He proceeds to lead the team on a repelling adventure down into a stunning cavern.

Just when it looks like the “advanced” trail was the right call, a cave-in occurs, trapping the team with no escape route, and little food or water. It’s at this point when we realize that most of Lucy’s management style seems to have originated in a ‘get tough’ management book from the 1960’s. She has no real instinct on how to treat people, and mostly just bullies and tricks them. Ms. Moore’s character and performance could easily be viewed as a spoof of her DISCLOSURE role with some uncomfortable laughs. We even get a Harvey Weinstein punchline.

Noticeable right away is the terrific comedic cast. Lucy’s team consists of Jess (Jessica Williams, BOOKSMART), Freddie (Karan Soni, DEADPOOL), Derek (Isiah Whitlock Jr, CEDAR RAPIDS), Gloria (Martha Kelly, “Baskets”), Billy (Dan Bakkedahl, SWORD OF TRUST), May (Jennifer Kim, “The Blacklist”), Suzy (Nasim Padrad, ALADDIN), and intern Aidan (Calum Worthy, “American Vandal”). This is an exceptionally talented group of funny people who know how to deliver a line. Some of the funniest moments are the ‘throwaway’ lines being uttered in between the main dialogue. That’s where the real comedy gold is buried, so listen closely.

Although the film is a comedy, it also boasts some elements of horror and suspense. Lucy’s twisted idealism is the basis for some of this, as is the team’s situation as things become more dire (think ALIVE blended with any workplace comedy). We learn the company is teetering on financial failure, and as one might expect in a confined area, workplace resentments and true feelings begin to rear up. The script never quite takes on business satire, focusing instead on personal reactions to a bleak situation. Even Gary Sinise and Britney Spears are included in the comic elements, and while some will find this to be a fitting midnight movie, others will once again be left wondering what to make of Patrick Brice’s films. And maybe that’s the point.

watch the trailer:


SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED (2012)

June 20, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. This one showed promise to deliver the rare, offbeat, genuine indie genius that those of us who spend entirely too much time in dark theatres live for. How many romantic-dramadies combine caustic comedy, elements of sci-fi, and are inspired by a real life newspaper ad? Not very darn many.

The set-up for the story is that Jeff (Jake Johnson), a Seattle magazine writer, suggests to his editor that the newspaper ad would make an interesting investigative report. To get a feel for the movie, reading the ad is essential:

WANTED: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll be paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED.

 Jeff takes two interns on assignment with him: Darius (Aubrey Plaza, pictured left) and Arneau (Karan Soni). Darius is a sarcastic loner and recent college grad. Arneau is a virgin nerd who skates ever so close to an Indian stereotype. He is actually quite funny and easy to root for. Unknown to the interns, Jeff has ulterior motives for taking this job, and the bulk of the work will fall to them.

 Darius quickly tracks down and connects with Kenneth (Mark Duplass, pictured left). He seems quite committed to the time travel cause and is a bit skeptical of Darius. The Kenneth character can best be described as a NICE Dwight from “The Office”. He veers from the “normal” line, but has a heart of gold. Once Kenneth and Darius confess their reasons for going back in time, it’s clear to the viewers that these two share a rare DNA strand. Humor kicks in during their training sessions … of course, you need martial arts skills and the ability to shoot straight if you plan to time travel.

 The comedy and romance elements are complimented by undertones of regret, paranoia, loneliness and the desire to connect. These same tones play right into Jeff’s sub-plot. When he finds his high school crush (Jessica Bergere), she asks him about his life. His answer is limited to “Escalade and Condo”. She soon has him considering what else life can offer. Kenneth and Darius discover that trust is not a four letter word. Even Arneau finds out that human interaction can be better than a blazing fast laptop.

The results of the time travel plan aren’t really important, though it does play a role in the final act. As with the best movies, what really matters are the people. These are people we can relate to because they come across as real … not perfect, but real. As likable as the characters are, there still seemed to be something missing that prevented this film from reaching the next level. Maybe it has to do with first feature film director Colin Trevorrow or his writer Derek Connolly. The missing link is not easily identifiable, but it doesn’t prevent enjoyment.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a fan of quirky, offbeat indies OR you want to see rising stars Mark Duplass and Aubrey Plaza

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: your idea of a time travel movie is more in line with Hot Tub Time Machine than a thoughtful indie flick

watch the trailer: