It’s nine o’clock on a weekday morning— do you know where you are? If you’ve ever stumbled into work more than a few minutes late, bleary-eyed and defeated, desperate to avoid the boss, here’s a fine excuse to sneak out of the office for an early afternoon movie. But don’t expect your special chair or favorite stapler to be there when you get back.
Office Space, the first live-action feature by Mike Judge, creator of Beavis and Butt-head and cocreator of King of the Hill, is a surprisingly good-natured comedy about the suppressed rage and paranoia of unappreciated employees. Every irritating character found in corporate culture is well represented here, from the ever-perky receptionist who blathers on about having “a bad case of the Mondays,” to a senior VP, played by the fabulously unctuous Gary Cole, who greets his employees with a sneering “So . . . what’s happening?” before reprimanding them, for the eighth time, for using the wrong cover sheet on a report. There’s even a demonic printer that seems to require a blood sacrifice before it will work properly.
Judge’s earliest animated shorts, which ran on Comedy Central, followed a middle-aged office peon who suffers endless indignities at the hands of a tyrannical corporate vice president. Ordered to move his desk farther and farther away from a window, he eventually ends up seething in a basement storage room. Though the muttering, eccentric Milton reappears in Office Space, he exists as a counterpoint, an example of what can happen in the minds of workers who cling too tightly to their lousy jobs. The movie follows three guys in their twenties, all programmers at a high-tech company in a bland, nameless city, who are still rebellious enough to see a way out of their dead-end jobs before they crack up or get laid off. That their screw-the-company scheme is inspired by the plot of Superman III should be ample evidence of just how naive they are about white-collar crime. The ringleader is Peter, a likable bum whose dream isn’t really wealth or revenge, but the chance to lounge around watching reruns of Kung Fu with a friendly waitress (Jennifer Aniston).
Peter’s not a terribly dynamic hero, particularly after a fateful visit to a hypnotherapist who treats stress, but it helps that the actor who plays him, Ron Livingston of Swingers, has the most insanely expressive eyebrows since Vincent Price. Peter’s office mates include Samir (Ajay Naidu), a dapper, scrupulous immigrant from the Near East, and the unfortunately named Michael Bolton (David Herman), a squirrelly-looking outsider who decorates his cubicle with toy soldiers and posters of Navy Seals, and seems to live his life with a gangsta rap soundtrack running through his head. Unlike most stories of paranoia and revenge in the workplace, Office Space manages to find room for a happy ending that doesn’t involve ripping anyone off, including the audience.