This review was updated on Jan. 29, 2004.
As perhaps the most overworked genre bracket in Amerindie-ism, the term “black comedy” has often been misapplied to create an aura of depth and imagination for films that purvey merely rote cynicism and tastelessness. Exhibit of the moment: “Employee of the Month,” toplining Matt Dillon as a white-collar Los Angeleno having a very bad day-and-a-half … until an abrupt twist at the end suggests otherwise. Given cast’s modest B.O. draw, slick but unpromising feature debut for co-writers Mitch Rouse and tyro helmer Jay Leggett will probably fare best in ancillary situations. Pic recalls better pics such as “After Hours” and “Falling Down” (and in its “surprise” last lap, every third crime-caper since “The Sting”).Whiplash ending might’ve been a neat trick if the first 90 minutes had offered anything more than contrivance and cheap yuks.
Suffering a minor indignity on public transit with quasi-Buddhist resignation, David Walsh (Dillon) informs aud via voiceover he’s lost everything within the last day. Pic then jumps back 36 hours to see how that came to be.
Raising a champagne toast to their imminent marriage, David and fiancee Sarah (Christina Applegate) seem to have it all: A swank hilltop pad, tony-looking friends, each other’s adoration. Only hint David (who bears scars on his face and torso from a long-ago mishap) might be walking on thin ice is the uninvited appearance of longtime pal Jack (Steve Zahn), who makes a coarse plea for his pal to jump off the conformity train.
Rude interruption aside, all remains well until the next morning, when hard-working David gets his two-year job review at the bank — only to get unceremoniously fired by a merciless boss (Peter Jason), no doubt due to a smug rival’s badmouthing. Meanwhile, Sarah has discovered panties belonging to her best friend (and David’s co-worker) Wendy (Andrea Bendewald) leaving no doubt as to David’s culpability.
Waking up hung over in a seedy motel next a.m, David figures he might as well tell everybody at work what he really thinks of them. His parting insults and threats are interrupted by a violent armed robbery staged in conventional overblown action-movie fashion. Coda to this is where pic springs its big betcha-didn’t-see-that-coming turnabout, which reduces everything prior to a conspiratorial fraud — besides rendering innumerable previous scenes utterly senseless. “Ironic” reversals of fortune continue halfway through closing credits.
For a script penned by two experienced improv comics, this one is remarkably short on clever dialogue, useful absurdities, non-stereotypical character quirks, or novel situations — unless seeing Jack (who day-jobs as a coroner) pickpocket bloodied car-accident corpses counts as edgy hilarity. Instead, “Employee” depends primarily on scatological and expletive-riddled exposition that would risk offense if it weren’t primarily just depressing, in that movie-starving-for-an-original-thought way.
Dillon is better than the material deserves. Wasted, too, is Applegate, whose comic chops are ignored, while Zahn is reduced to an unfunny caricature of his earlier wild man roles. Medium-scaled yet glossy package’s sometimes show-offish camera and editorial gambits only make its hollow core more obvious. Ditto a soundtrack heavy on pop filler; at Sundance screening reviewed, audio in general was on the shrill side.