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Sundance Film Review: ‘Corporate Animals’

Demi Moore proves her comedy chops in a wicked satire that's light on plotting and heavy on the cannibal jokes.

Director:
Patrick Brice
With:

Demi Moore, Ed Helms, Jessica Williams, Karan Soni, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Calum Worthy.

1 hour 26 minutes.

When the employees of Incredible Edibles, a comestible silverware start-up, get trapped in a cave during a team-building retreat, it doesn’t take long for these environmentalists to consider cannibalism. Patrick Brice’s “Corporate Animals” is a thin satire on the dog-eat-dog — make that man-eat-man — selfishness of modern capitalism, with a deliciously nasty lead performance by Demi Moore as Lucy, the hypocritical CEO. In the very funny commercial that opens the film, Lucy frames herself as the Earth Mother goddess of a company that she believes will save the planet, while touting her diverse workforce of women, LGBTQ individuals and people of color. But ask the employees of Incredible Edibles if they feel valued, and they’ll blurt something the FCC wouldn’t approve.

Lucy is the boss from Hades by way of Goop, a woman who uses inspirational buzzwords to browbeat her team. To her, taking credit for her employees’ success is “mentorship,” and when her black female assistant Jess (Jessica Williams) is underwhelmed, Lucy orders her to find her inner Beyoncé. As for bullying her hirelings into rappelling into an advanced cave system, that’s simply encouraging them to be their best selves — or get fired.

Brice, the goofball behind “Creep” and “Creep 2” and writer Sam Bain (“Peep Show,” “Four Lions”) clearly enjoyed creating this monster, which Moore brings to life with brittle, exacting delight. In one scene, she slithers up from behind a boulder wearing a moisturizing face mask as though the villain in a Noh play. Moore goes after modern empowerment culture with the same energy her bad executive Meredith Johnson in “Disclosure” brought to the mid-’90’s incomplete understanding of sexual harassment. As a society, we’ve learned a bit more since then about the different ways a boss can overpower their underlings. Still, when second-in-command Freddie (Karan Soni) accuses Lucy of “Weinstein-ing” him, the jokey shorthand suggests we haven’t come that far.

“Corporate Animals” is a character sketch in search of a plot. In the first act, fatuous guide Brandon (Ed Helms) gets the gang trapped in an underground cavern large enough for people to slink off to the bathroom or seduce each other behind a rock. Even before the first person gets filleted, we’re grateful the film isn’t in Smell-O-Vision. Yet, most of the brutality is verbal. There’s a gleeful shiver when the employees finally feel free to speak their minds. Who cares about getting fired when one employee is writing a will to clarify who gets to eat her butt cheek? Given the lack of narrative options once the group is stuck passively waiting for rescue, attacking each other is the only way to pass the time.

At least Chris Donlon’s comic editing beats have zip, and the ensemble is well curated — particularly Isiah Whitlock Jr. of “The Wire,” a master of disgruntlement; and Calum Worthy (“Bodied”) as a hard-working intern who spends the second half of the film silently shaking a kinetically powered flashlight, a gag that works much longer than it deserves to. Ultimately, however, this is a film that’s more valuable as an example of Moore’s fine comic chops. Hopefully, next time the material is tastier.

Sundance Film Review: 'Corporate Animals'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Midnight), Jan. 29, 2019. Running time: 86 MIN.

Production:

A Snoot Entertainment, Pacific Electric Picture Co. presentation. (International sales: Protagonist, London.) Producers: Keith Calder, Jess Wu Calder, Mike Falbo, Ed Helms. Co-producer: Chris Harding. Executive producer: Paul O. Davis.

Crew:

Director: Patrick Brice. Screenplay: Sam Bain. Camera: Tarin Anderson. Editor: Chris Donlon. Music: Michael Yezerski.

With:

Demi Moore, Ed Helms, Jessica Williams, Karan Soni, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Calum Worthy.

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