October 12, 2006

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Employee of the Month (PG-13)
Dane Cook wrings another couple of dollars out of his legion of fans with the sitcomy Employee of the Month, a comedy that captures none of the better qualities of Cook's standup.

What are the better qualities of Cook's stand-up? Primarily, it's his performance. He's very physical flopping and pacing around the stage, and he can modulate his voice between a hiss and a near-desperate shriek. Cook sits in the comedy hierarchy well north of the likes of Carrot Top or, honestly, even the smarter but braying likes of Bill Maher but somewhere below the verbal nimbleness of a Jerry Seinfeld, the acerbic darkness of a Denis Leary or the sharp satire of a Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert. In short, I'd happily watch his HBO special, I just don't plan on TiVo-ing it.

The same can not be said about Employee of the Month.

Zack (Cook) is ambition-free, enjoying his job as the box boy at a Sam's Club-like store and living with his grandmother. He's made friends with other bottom rung-ers who share his dislike of the team-spirit-pushing management and the arrogant head cashier Vince (Dax Shepard), who has won employee of the month for 17 months in a row.

If Vince wins the row of gold stars one more month, he'll be on the fast track to managing his own store and he'll win an almost new car. And then new cashier Amy (Jessica Simpson) shows up offering extra incentive. Her personnel file indicates that she has a thing for guys who wear the "employee of the month" mantle. Hot to woo Amy, Vince assures whoever will listen that the EotM is his.

Zack, however, feels he's the guy who's right for Amy. He decides to put in his all (showing up for work on time, helping customers) in an attempt to gain the prize as well. Soon, Zack and Vince are locked in a deadly competition, each willing to do anything (including sell out friends) to gain the day's gold star.

As a starring vehicle for a currently quite-popular comedian, Employee of the Month is a real lemon. Cook's role could have easily been played by Ryan Reynolds with no noticeable difference he doesn't bring anything special to the part. Likewise, Dax Shepard's part could have been filled by any spike-haired man-child (Google the words "fametracker" and "Dax Shepard" to read a very accurate assessment of Shepard's career and how Jimmy Fallon already has those parts covered). And Jessica Simpson? She could have easily been played by a cardboard cutout of herself. Supporting roles filled in by Efren Ramirez, Andy Dick, Tim Bagley and Harland Williams just seem like some kind of make-work program for comedy sidekicks.

Employee of the Month feels like a movie on mute. I can see that it could be funny but nothing laugh-inducing is actually reaching my ears. D+

Amy Diaz