June 19, 2008

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The Promotion (R)
Two men battle over a supermarket manager job in the delightful The Promotion, a simple but screwy and laugh-out-loud funny workplace comedy.

No, really, out loud. Not just a chuckle but the really big dorky laughter.

Doug Stauber (Seann William Scott) is an assistant manager at a Chicago supermarket now but soon heíll be manager of the chainís newest store, or so he believes. Heís a shoo-in, store manager Scott (Fred Armisen) tells him. But then Richard (John C. Reilly) shows up from one of the chainís sister stores in Canada and suddenly Dougís shoo is not so in. Richard forms a good relationship with the Pepsi distributor while Doug gets into mishaps trying to chase the unruly kids out of the parking lot. Big deal, to some extent, except that Doug has somehow come to place his entire worth as a person on getting this new store. Itís with the new job at the new store that he and his wife Jen (Jenna Fischer) can finally afford to move out of their apartment next to the loud banjo player, who is frequently entertaining a fellow banjo player with a really disturbing mix of music and sex. No big deal, Jen says, if you donít get it, Iíll just go back to school and become a nurse practitioner. But sheís already a hard-working nurse, already surrounded by successful doctors who donít share walls with banjo players, so this just wonít do for Doug.

Naturally, as competition ensues, Doug and Richard take to exchanging workplace-style blows ó a write-up for bad behavior here, a lousy shift there. What makes their petty war hilarious is how, as with all workplaces, it plays out in relatively small incidents. In fact, the best way to make the other guy look bad is often just to step out of the way while he does something stupid. Say nothing when he finishes a strange comment on a particularly inappropriate note just as the board walks by; let him suffer the indignities of having to hand negative comment cards over to the board. These little soul-crushing moments of work life, which are relatable regardless of your profession, make for such wonderful moments of comedy because they are so ever-present and create an instant ďbetter him than meĒ sense of relief. Itís the little awfulness that makes shows like Fischerís The Office work so well and the little awfulness that offers some of this movieís biggest laughs.

Scott holds his own here and though we donít get enough of Fischer sheís perfectly on key when sheís around. Itís Reilly who really does the heavy lifting of the goofiness. From his Canadian accident to his quick change from mildness to full-on swear-spouting twitchiness, Reillyís Richard helps make this a real gem of a small comedy. B+

Rated R for language including sexual reference and some drug use. Written and directed by Steve Conrad, The Promotion is an hour and 25 minutes long and is distributed in limited release by Dimension Films.