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Trying to Part Company
With His Cubicle

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 19, 1999

  Movie Critic

'Office Space'
Ron Livingston, David Herman and Ajay Naidu prepare to interface with some office equipment. (20th Century Fox)

Mike Judge
Jennifer Aniston;
Ron Livingston;
Gary Cole;
Alexandra Wentworth;
Stephen Root;
Todd Duffey;
Jennifer Emerson;
David Herman;
John C. McGinley
Running Time:
1 hour, 30 minutes
Language and brief nudity
"Office Space," a knowing, somewhat slight, often hilarious sendup of cubicle culture, exploits the yuks in the chronic misery of those routinely exposed to the monotonous gray of corporate minds and company decor. The comedy explores the same turf as "Dilbert" and "The Drew Carey Show," but its true soul mate is the inflatable "Scream" doll.

Set in a nondescript Initech Corp., the film focuses on a clutch of white-collar wage slaves in the throes of existential dread. They work hard, come in on time and do what they are told (no matter how ridiculous). In return, they receive a modest paycheck and on special occasions, a sheet cake.

They endure inane memos, inept managers, fickle copiers and windows that won't open. They attend motivational seminars, work on weekends and kid each other about going postal. All the while, they're caged in their cubicles, which provide neither privacy nor solace, but serve as constant reminders that they don't merit ceilings and doors.

Written and directed by Mike Judge of "Beavis and Butt-head" and "King of the Hill," this live-action film aims at a more career-minded crowd than either of those TV sit-toons. Yet Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) and his cronies at Initech Corp. are no less befuddled by their circumstances than Judge's cartoon characters.

Peter, a dispirited desk jockey in his mid-twenties, hates his job, but fears losing it just the same. In desperation, he consults with an "occupational hypnotherapist," who suffers a fatal heart attack before waking Peter from a trance. Now freed of his fears and anxieties, he decides that work, like paying the bills, is no fun at all and maybe he just won't do it anymore.

To the astonishment of his smarmy boss (Gary Cole), Peter starts coming in later and later and frequently doesn't show up at all. His colleagues figure he'll get the ax. Instead he's given a promotion when a pair of efficiency experts determine that he's a "straight shooter with upper management written all over him."

Livingston, best known for his co-starring role in "Swingers," is wholly ingratiating as the movie's long-suffering Everyman. David Herman, Ajay Naidu and Stephen Root lend strong support as his variously disgruntled co-workers as does Diedrich Bader as Peter's wised-up redneck neighbor. Though prominently billed, Jennifer Aniston has an underwhelming role as the hero's waitress girlfriend.

Based on three of Judge's early animated shorts, the film lacks a unifying theme and a compelling story line. But as social satire, it sure hits close to home for many a corporate drone. And misery loves comedy. However, for those who are happily unemployed, there are also some great jokes about minimum security prisons for white-collar criminals, apartment walls so flimsy you can hear a pin drop next door and magazine-vending crackheads.

The production values are limited, but in this case that's definitely a plus. The cheap, utterly charmless Initech facility makes the dank underground factories of 1926's "Metropolis" look like the set of TV's "Ally McBeal."

Indeed "Office Space" is the anti-McBeal. There's nothing sexy or glamorous about Judge's portrait of the new American sweatshop. So what if it's air-conditioned. As the writer-director points out, the peons at Initech would be better off outdoors working construction. A naive conclusion perhaps, but they'd certainly get more fresh air.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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