There will be no promotions stemming from "The Promotion," a stillborn would-be comedy about job competition between two questionable guys.

There will be no promotions stemming from “The Promotion,” a stillborn would-be comedy about job competition between two questionably qualified guys. Premise of a cutthroat contest involving working-class stiffs played by Seann William Scott and John C. Reilly, actors capable of heroic insanity, would seem to promise outrageously amped-up venality. Instead, writer-director Steve Conrad serves up a tonally uncertain look at two borderline losers with an ending that weakly echoes the climax he penned for “The Pursuit of Happyness.” Preemed at SXSW, this planned June 6 Dimension release could get some B.O. mileage out of a campaign touting more laughs than the picture delivers.

When Doug (Scott), the straight-arrow assistant manager of a Chicago-area branch of supermarket giant Donaldson’s, learns the chain will soon open a new store in his neighborhood, he’s convinced he’ll be named its manager. This pleases his affectionate wife (Jenna Fischer) no end, and they make plans to buy a house.

But a rude surprise arrives in the form of Richard (Reilly), an overly nice chap from Canada who announces he’ll be applying for the post as well. Unlike the rigid, tentative Doug, easygoing Richard chats up other employees and generally ingratiates himself when not listening to self-esteem recordings.

The interview process proceeds, and the men commence a mild friendship while also revealing personality problems that might, in the view of the company’s board, diminish their chances for the big job. Doug, for example, deals unsatisfactorily with rude black teenagers who hang out in the store parking lot.

Richard’s sociability, meanwhile, is quickly clouded by his struggles to keep his substance abuse in the past. His Scottish wife soon leaves with their daughter, bringing his unsettling weirdness more out in the open.

It’s hard to know what Conrad wants the audience to feel about these central characters. On the one hand, they are just regular Joes struggling to make the grade in a highly regimented and impersonal corporate climate, and can be extended sympathy as such. On the other, however, Doug and Richard are both endowed with such worrisome flaws that it’s highly questionable whether either of them is qualified to run a big store.

Conrad’s grip on the film’s style is as uncertain as his intent. Conspicuously bland-looking — color schemes are unattractive, and Conrad does nothing to justify shooting in widescreen — the pic never finds an attitudinal groove or any sense of pace to whisk the viewer through the brief running time. When “The Promotion” eventually reveals its parallels to “Happyness,” it becomes depressingly apparent how the entire enterprise has fallen short of its muddled ambitions.

Scott, in particular, seems hamstrung by his straight-and-narrow character, his natural exuberance and talent for lunacy stifled at every turn. Reilly’s Richard at least has some subtext and backstory to work with, but the character is such a lost puppy one can only shudder for the life prospects of his unaccountably forgiving wife, as well as for his daughter.

Production values are low-end.

The Promotion

Production

A Dimension Films release. Produced by Jessika Borsiczky Goyer, Steven A. Jones. Executive producers, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein. Directed, written by Steve Conrad.

Crew

Camera (Technicolor, Panavision widescreen), Lawrence Sher; editor, Tim Streeto; music, Alex Wurman; music supervisor, Tracy McKnight; production designer, Martin Whist; art director, Doug J. Meerdink; set decorator, Daniel B. Clancy; costume designer, Susan Kaufmann; sound (Dolby Digital), Scott D. Smith; re-recording mixers, Tom Myers, Brandon Proctor; line producer, Christina Varotsis; assistant director, Bruce Terris. Reviewed at Wilshire screening room, Beverly Hills, March 7, 2008. (In SXSW Film Festival -- Spotlight Premieres.) Running time: 86 MIN.

With

Seann William Scott, John C. Reilly, Jenna Fischer, Lili Taylor, Fred Armisen, Gil Bellows, Bobby Cannavale, Rick Gonzalez, Chris Conrad.

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more