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‘Promotion’ Not Worth Fighting For

June 27, 2008

By Phil Villarreal, The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson

Jun. 27–”The Promotion” fails as a comedy because it’s less funny and interesting than it would be to watch stars Seann William Scott and John C. Reilly sitting in lawn chairs and talking for 90 minutes.

Running with just about the same premise as the wretched “Employee of the Month,” writer/director Steve Conrad pits Scott and Reilly as grocery-store assistant managers gunning for the general-manager position. The competition gets as dirty as a political campaign, with both parties working overtime to sneak ahead by making the other look bad.

And, as in politics, everyone loses. Including the audience. Flat jokes and off-puttingly cruel subterfuge give viewers no one to root for.

Scott, the “American Pie” phenom who has lacked his old punch since “The Dukes of Hazzard” (2005), plays Doug, who is so sure he’ll get the job that he and his wife, Jen (Jenna Fischer), buy a house they can’t afford and stock their closet with long-sleeve shirts he’ll wear in the office.

Doug didn’t account for the arrival of Richard (Reilly), a kindly Canadian whose affable bumpkin charm wins over fellow employees and the company bigwigs alike. He listens to self-help tapes that deal out hokey personalized affirmations in a joke that’s repeated too many times.

Although Richard at first appears to be the nicer of the two characters, he begins to show his dark side at the first sign of conflict. His jittery better half (Lili Taylor) is all too aware of the depths to which Richard can sink.

There’s potential here for a dumb comedy full of goofy slapstick and ridiculous situations such as “Kingpin,” but Conrad (screenwriter of “The Pursuit of Happyness”) takes a route more akin to “Changing Lanes” — somewhat serious with swiftly rising stakes, like a poker hand gone out of control.

For instance, Doug spreads a sexually tinged rumor about Richard, who files a complaint against Doug that will besmirch his permanent record with the company. Both men endanger not only each other and their own professional reputations, but their home lives. The animosity shadows the humor to a degree that it’s tough to laugh.

The deeper Doug and Richard dig into the muck, the harder it is to care about either man’s fate. Conrad doesn’t tip his hand either way, keeping the outcome unpredictable and providing reason the jokes and performances can’t generate. The characters and their film are more deserving of pink slips than raises.

Review

The Promotion

**

–Rated: R for language including sexual references.

–Cast: Seann William Scott, John C. Reilly, Jenna Fischer, Lili Taylor.

–Writer/director: Steve Conrad.

–Family call: Not for kids.

–Running time: 85 minutes.

–Contact film critic Phil Villarreal at 573-4130 or pvillarreal@azstarnet.com.

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