'Operation: Endgame'

Like a gang of novice chefs who suddenly find themselves in a fully stocked gourmet kitchen.

Like a gang of novice chefs who suddenly find themselves in a fully stocked gourmet kitchen, the first-time director and screenwriters of “Operation: Endgame” were given a wealth of comic talent to work with for this lurching action-comedy, only to make hash of the whole thing. Extremely bloody spy caper, which heads to homevid after a cursory theatrical release, could attract cable attention on the strength of its cast, though only the least discriminating of channel-flippers will find much here to keep them hooked.

A few halfway-promising early scenes seem to set up the pic as a sort of espionage-oriented “Super Troopers,” with sassy pneumatic women and bumbling, drunken secret agents insulting and playing tricks on one another around the workplace. Set on the day of President Obama’s inauguration — and incorporating news clips from the day, to bafflingly incongruous effect — pic introduces a rookie spy (Joe Anderson), codenamed “the Fool,” as he undergoes orientation at an underground black-ops headquarters that resembles an average temp agency.

The Fool is hurriedly introduced to the local office pool (Ellen Barkin, Ving Rhames, Rob Corddry, Maggie Q, Bob Odenkirk and others, each granted a decent line or two at most), which unexpectedly includes his ex-girlfriend, Temperance (Odette Yustman). Yet he’s hardly made it to his first staff meeting before the sudden murder of the local agency supervisor (Jeffrey Tambor) sends the whole office into lockdown, and agents spend the rest of the film looking for an escape route while picking one another off in increasingly bloody ways.

There’s a clever idea buried somewhere deep in Sam Levinson and Brian Watanabe’s screenplay, with a clutch of trained killers in cubicles standing in for the more genteel backstabbers of corporate America. But the pic does nothing with it, and almost immediately descends into a deadening pattern of tough-guy one-liners, followed by clumsy fight scenes, followed by blood-spurting head wounds. Even such a lackluster narrative could have been cheaply entertaining if it were imbued with any sense of playfulness or charm, but director Fouad Mikati seems merely concerned with rubbing out his talented cast, one by one, as quickly and efficiently as he can.

To the actors’ credit, none of them seem to be entirely phoning it in as they await their respective death scenes, although neither do they seem to have been granted much room to improvise. Corddry’s aggressive self-loathing provides a few bright moments, while Barkin gets to do little more than spew deadpan expletives. Zach Galifianakis’ trademark creepiness is put to ineffective use in the role of a diabetic assassin.

Photography, sound work and other technical specs are mostly competently handled. DVD reviewed did not include end credits, leaving an incomplete running time of 82 minutes.

Operation: Endgame

Production

An Anchor Bay Films release presented with Infinity Media of an Infinity and Darko Entertainment production. Produced by Sean McKittrick, Michael Ohoven, Kevin Turen. Executive producers, Chadwick Clough, Jeff Culotta, Albert T. Dickerson III, Ted Hamm, Bill Johnson, Richard Kelly, Jim Seibel. Co-producer, Rani Aliahmad. Directed by Fouad Mikati. Screenplay, Sam Levinson, Brian Watanabe.

Crew

Camera (color), Arnaud Stefani; editor, Joshua Ferrazzano; music, Ian Honeyman; production designer, Michael Grasley; art director, Michael Hersey; costume designer, Bonnie Stauch; sound, Joe Dzuban; special effects supervisor, Beverley Hartigan; casting, Monika Mikkelsen. Reviewed on DVD, Los Angeles, July 13, 2010. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 82 MIN.

With

Joe Anderson, Odette Yustman, Zach Galifianakis, Ellen Barkin, Rob Corddry, Adam Scott, Ving Rhames, Bob Odenkirk, Jeffrey Tambor, Maggie Q, Emilie de Ravin.

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