The wait for laughs lasts the entire length of "Waiting ...," first feature from writer-director Rob McKittrick. What talented B-list mainstream thesps like Ryan Reynolds and Anna Faris are doing in this C-grade timekiller is a mystery. Even more mysterious is pic's braving theatrical waters when it practically screams "rental."

The wait for laughs lasts the entire length of “Waiting …,” first feature from writer-director Rob McKittrick that aims to be a “Clerks”-type comedy set in a chain restaurant but ends up somewhere below a “Porky’s” sequel. What talented B-list mainstream thesps like Ryan Reynolds and Anna Faris are doing in this C-grade timekiller is a mystery. Even more mysterious is pic’s braving theatrical waters when it practically screams “rental.” Hardtop career will be drive-through speedy, with ancillary likelier to cash in on project’s appetizing-enough appearance.

Plotless series of tepid gags is set during one afternoon-to-closing shift at Shenanigan’z Bar & Grill, a middlebrow eatery in the vein of Applebee’s or Sizzler. This is the first day at work for high school-age trainee Mitch (John Francis Daley), whose nonplussed reactions are meant to underline just how wild ‘n’ wacky the staff here is.

Waitpersons are led by snarky, underage-womanizing Monty (Reynolds), his cynical onetime g.f. Serena (Faris), his nice-guy housemate Dean (Justin Long), latter’s equally nice on/off g.f. Amy (Kaitlin Doubleday), foul-mouthed Naomi (Alanna Ubach), and neurotic Calvin (Patrick Benedict).

Their manager is older, dorky Dan (David Koechner), who wields his puny power with a heavy hand while desperately trying to be everyone’s pal. Staff includes cranky horn dog cooks led by Raddimus (Luis Guzman), psychiatric wisdom-dispensing dishwasher Bishop (Chi McBride), hot lesbian bartender Tyla (Emmanuelle Chriqui), and very-nearly-legal Natascha (Vanessa Lengies), who teases every guy into a Lolita-jonesing lather.

Twenty-two-year-old Dean is offered an underwhelming “promotion” to assistant manager by Dan the same day he learns a former classmate has just gotten his degree in electrical engineering. Should he bail before what started out as an after-school job turns into a dead-end, life-sucking-dry “career”?

You can guess where that strand is headed, and there’s precious little surprise — let alone comic invention — in the parade of obnoxious customers, bad tippers and employee revenge tactics (spitting in food, etc.) that consume remaining screentime.

Of course, how high can one’s hopes be raised by a movie whose central running gag revolves around something called “the penis-showing game”? (Interestingly, eventual fleeting close-ups of both male and female private parts suggest the MPAA “R” smiles upon comedy genitalia, recoiling from equally brief but “serious” anatomical exposure, as in concurrent unrated “Where the Truth Lies.”)

Puerile, inert and drab, “Waiting …” makes “Car Wash” look like a classic ensemble workplace comedy by comparison.

Allowing for possibility that feature may have been sitting around for a while (it sports a 2004 copyright), it still surprises that Reynolds had nothing better to do than more-or-less reprise his “Van Wilder” character here. Apart from one outburst in which she cuts him down to size, Faris is entirely wasted. She does, however, get two lines that nail the film’s most loutish tendencies: Calling the boys’ behavior “an exercise in retarded homophobic futility,” and cracking “If you guys go five minutes without referencing your genitals, I’ll be amazed.”

Rest of the cast would be funny if they had anything to be funny about. Even the wigger riffing of perfectly cast Max Kasch and Andy Milonakis — as teen busboys who annoy all with their stoned wannabe-gangsta posturing — is just mildly amusing because the script does nothing to freshen up a done-to-death satirical target.

Shot in New Orleans — though the city isn’t mentioned or its locations made the least use of — package is mediocre in every department. Queries as to its original shooting format (at times image looks vid-shot) went unanswered.

Waiting ...

Production

A Lions Gate Films release of an Eden Rock Media, Element Films and Wisenheimer Films production. Produced by Jeff Balis, Rob Green, Stavros Merjos, Jay Rifkin, Adam Rosenfelt. Executive producers, Thomas Augsberger, Paul Fiore, Chris Moore, Sam Nazarian, Malcolm Petal, Marc Schaberg, Jonathan Shestack. Co-producers, Chris Fenton, Dean Shull, Randy Winograd. Directed, written by Rob McKittrick.

Crew

Camera (color), Matthew Irving; editors, Andy Blumenthal, David Finfer; music, Adam Gorgoni; music supervisor, Pete Soldinger; production designer, Deborah Herbert; art director, Morgan Blackledge; set decorator, Raymond Pumilia; costume designer, Jillian Kreiner; sound (DTS/Dolby Digital/SDDS), Stew Bernstein, Scott Sanders, Richard Dwan; assistant director, Brian Pitt; casting, Anne McCarthy, Jay Scully, Amy Staub, Tommy Staub. Reviewed at Variety Club Screening Room, San Francisco, Sept. 26, 2005. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 93 MIN.

With

Ryan Reynolds, Anna Faris, Justin Long, David Koechner, Luis Guzman, Chi McBride, John Francis Daley, Kaitlin Doubleday, Patrick Benedict, Alanna Ubach, Vanessa Lengies, Max Kasch, Andy Milonakis, Dane Cook, Jordan Ladd, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Wendie Malick, Monica Monica, Travis Resor, J.D. Evermore, Clay Chamberlain, Skyler Stone, Melissa Morgan, Don Brady.

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