A bun in the oven forces man-child Zach Braff to leave New York and get a real job at his father-in-law’s Ohio ad agency in “Fast Track,” a half-baked comedy torn between sincere emotion and over-the-top outrageousness. As if adjusting to a white-collar job weren’t challenging enough, the young man must endure a mentor who turns out to be his wife’s paraplegic high school flame. In-joke office humor and baby-raising gags seem custom-tailored to the yuppie date-movie crowd, though ads suggest a zanier experience than director Jesse Peretz can deliver. Returns should fall somewhere in the “Duplex” neighborhood.
Without the budget for big-name movie stars, “Fast Track” does the next best thing, cherry-picking its cast from among the ranks of popular TV personalities. “Scrubs” star Braff is an inspired choice for a role surely written with Ben Stiller or Adam Sandler in mind. Sexy “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” exec Amanda Peet plays every Maxim reader’s ideal spouse, giving up a lucrative law career to stay home with the baby. And “Arrested Development” fans will appreciate watching Jason Bateman steal the show as Braff’s “handicapable” office rival, Chip Sanders.
But television also will pose pic’s stiffest competition, since none of the movie’s laughs can top what auds have come to expect from any given episode of their favorite workplace sitcom, be it “Ugly Betty” or “The Office.” With the off-color jokes sanded down to squeak by with a PG-13 rating, that leaves only loopy in-laws (Mia Farrow and Charles Grodin, in his first film role in 12 years) and wheelchair-related humor to surprise.
So far, only the Farrelly brothers have managed to maneuver this territory with any degree of grace, empowering characters with disabilities in all their films. “Fast Track” screenwriters David Guion and Michael Handelman aren’t quite so sensitive. They exploit Chip’s condition as little more than a plot contrivance, giving him the upper hand in seducing women while allowing him to deliberately misconstrue anything Tom (Braff) says as offensive. At every step of the way, Tom is made to feel insecure by stories of Chip’s sexual prowess.
The workplace rivalry can only go on so long, however, since Tom makes it clear he’s uncomfortable doing anything remotely grown-up, while his wife spends her afternoons watching courtroom dramas and missing her old job. If it weren’t for the opening scene of the two lovebirds making each other laugh in bed, we might question what they were doing together in the first place — which is, of course, the whole idea: Tom thinks he’s undeserving of his super-wife, self-conscious that every move he makes could jeopardize the relationship.
But the sentimental side that wants to see them stay together doesn’t gel with Tom’s increasingly hostile behavior, which extends beyond tossing Chip down the stairs to a knock-down, drag-out fight with the man in his chair.
Pic’s real irony is its title. “Fast Track” began shooting in summer 2005 and was rumored to be ready in time for Sundance last year, only to be “fast-tracked” into theaters 12 months later by the Weinstein Co. Plot holes and dead-end setups belie reshoots, although tech work is markedly improved from Peretz’s last feature, “The Chateau.”
New York plays itself in the Gotham-based production, with Staten Island and Queens locations doubling convincingly for Ohio ‘burbs.