Having only days ago attended a screening of "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan," quite possibly the funniest and smartest comedy of the last few years, seeing "Employee of the Month" is a revelatory experience into the other end of the genre spectrum. Flavorlessly directed in a point-forward-and-shoot fashion by Greg Coolidge, the film's insipid, lazy humor sticks about as well as a wet, slippery noodle being tossed around for two hours. The love story is flawed at its core and not developed satisfactorily, all the while contradicting its lame premise. And as a star vehicle for comedian Dane Cook (2005's infinitely better workplace comedy "Waiting
"), the movie's threadbare material does him no favors. Color this reviewer unimpressed.
At a Costco-inspired warehouse store called Super Club, Zack Bradley (Dane Cook) is happy to be a lowly slacker box boy while superstar cashier Vince Downey (Dax Shepard) reaps all the glory by earning the honors of "Employee of the Month" seventeen months straight. When beautiful cashier Amy (Jessica Simpson) transfers to their store, Zack is instantly smitten. Learning that she has only gone out with employees of the month in the past, Zack vows to steal the title away from competitor Vince, who also has eyes for Amy. In the process, Zack finds himself learning some valuable lessons about work ethics, honesty and personal integrity.
"Employee of the Month" is fatally flawed by a screenplay written by Greg Coolidge (2002's "Sorority Boys
"), Don Calame and Chris Conroy that is beyond dumb. If it were true that Amy was a girl who only slept with the winners of some monthly contest, she would be an unforgivably superficial creation who wouldn't be worth fighting for. Instead, she is written, albeit poorly and with precious little development, as someone who is friendly to everyone, doesn't care at all about a person's status, and decides to go out with a guy based on who he is rather than what he does. On their first and last date, Amy sees Vince for the chauvinistic creep he is and rebuffs his advances thereafter. Meanwhile, Zack and Amy hit it off splendidly and start dating before the movie's first hour is up. Thus, what is the need for the battle of the "Employee of the Month" title when a person with brain damage could see that Amy already likes Zack? It's pointless, negates the intelligence of the characters, and makes protagonist Zack just as at fault with his immature actions as Vince.
As a romance between Zack and Amy, their chemistry feels forced. These two people get together because the script demands it, not because there is a kindred bond between them. It doesn't help that Amy is barely sketched out as a characterthe only thing learned about her is that she has really big ears hiding behind her long, blond hairand is played by Jessica Simpson (2005's "The Dukes of Hazard
") with the frequent look of a deer caught in the headlights. Simpson is slightly improved from her inauspicious debut acting turn as Daisy Duke, but that isn't saying much. Mostly, she stands around with a blank face that only changes when she is asked to smile brightly or is trying to remember her next line. Interesting, too, that Amy is never actually seen working even though she is always at the store; not a single item or customer ever comes through her checkout lane. This, as well as the inference that none of the employees take a day offa gold-star chart in the break room shows that Zack and Vince have worked thirty-one days out of the montharen't just oversights, but downright sloppy filmmaking.
The lead male roles should have been swapped in the casting stage. Dane Cook, as would-be nice guy Zack, has the smart-ass looks and delivery that would have been perfect for smarmy rival Vince, while Dax Shepard (2005's "Zathura
"), as Vince, would have been an ideal and likable presence in the role of Zack. As is, Cook and Shepard are both naturals in front of the camera, but aren't even a fraction as funny as they have been in other projects. The writing is weak and the jokes are on the forgettable level of bad "Saturday Night Live" skits, but it is also suggestive that both actors could use some work in learning how to improvise better. If a comic can't make subpar material the least bit funny, who can? In wasted supporting roles, Harland Williams (2005's "Because of Winn-Dixie
") and Andy Dick (2003's "Old School
") play two of Zack's quirky coworker friends, and Efren Ramirez (2004's "Napoleon Dynamite
") has a few cute moments as Jorge, Vince's adoring slave and henchman.
As the tie-breaking contest for the top employee of November culminates in a ceremony and a climactic face-off to see who can check out the same amount of items faster, "Employee of the Month" has long ago worn out its welcome and made a mess of its hole-riddled premise. Attempts at workplace satire and fodder about retail jobs are halfhearted, at best, forgotten about in the name of juvenile pissing contests between grown men fighting over an unproven and glaringly untrue rumor. "Employee of the Month" is content with remaining trivial and shallow, just as long as there are enough cleavage shots of Jessica Simpson's breasts to satisfy the straight teenage boys in the audience.