I suppose I can understand Hollywood's continued practice of giving every stand-up comic and 'Saturday Night Live' alum a shot at big screen stardom. For every cinematic indignity perpetuated by a Dana Carvey or a Chris Kattan, there's the chance that a new Eddie Murphy or Will Ferrell will emerge. So it should come as no surprise that comic wunderkind Dane Cook, the Comedy Central savior and unholy spawn of the MySpace generation, would get his first starring vehicle. But what is a surprise is how innocuous, even mawkish Cook's maiden voyage, the romantic comedy 'Employee of the Month' -- ultimately is. Imagine 'The 40 Year-Old Virgin,' only without the raunch, and without Steve Carell.
Cook stars as Zack Bradley, a long-time stock boy at the Super Club (aka CostCo), who spends his aimless days stocking shelves and watching 'SpaceCamp' in his Grandma's basement. But when the lovely Amy (Jessica Simpson) arrives at Super Club for her first day of work, suddenly Zack has a reason to excel. Hoping to impress her, he jumps into the "Employee of the Month" contest, battling rival Vince Downey (Dax Shepard), who has won the honor for the last consecutive seventeen months. The overgrown boys' attempts to win the title and Amy's affections grow ever more absurd, especially after Zack is unexpectedly promoted to cashier. Not since 'Caddyshack' has the battle of the slobs against the snobs been this ugly.
Having heard about (but never seen) Dane Cook's stand-up prior to seeing this film, I was surprised at how genteel his brand of comedy is, at least in this movie. Unlike Chris Rock, Steve Carrell or Ben Stiller, Cook seems to be without a subversive mean streak -- certainly a stark contrast to the comic terrorism of Sacha Baron Cohen. He never takes any of the gags or comedic situations in 'Employee of the Month' very far left of center, to the point where the only edge the film seems to teeter on is that of chick-flick banality. But despite how that sounds, it's not a bad thing. It actually was refreshing to see a romantic comedy not completely wallowing in vulgarity, and I laughed through much of Cook's good-natured puppy-dog antics. Even more surprising, he and Jessica Simpson do make a cute pairing, and they are certainly both hot enough for us to want to see them together. If 'Employee of the Month' doesn't excel at cutting-edge comedy, it sorta-kinda-almost works as a sweet little love story.
'Employee of the Month's bigger problem to me, however, is that it is so close to being a complete rip-off of 'The 40 Year-Old Virgin' in story, character and tone that the latter's makers should considering suing. The loser-tries-to-get-the-girl scenario, the hodgepodge of Cook/Carell's racially and sexual orientationally-diverse co-workers, the mix of improv-riffing go-nowhere scenes and racy gags, right down to the identical-to-Best Buy blue vest-over-khakis Super Club uniforms -- the whole of 'Employee of the Month' is like one serious case of deja vu. Even Zack's ultimate "spiritual rebirth," like a butterfly emerging from the cocoon of slacker-dom, is so close to Carell's de-virginizing that I expected another "Age of Aquarius" montage to end the film. But as carbon copies go, at least the engaging Cook makes it entertaining. With so much going for him, here's hoping Dane Cook gets a starring vehicle better than 'Employee of the Month' sometime soon.
'Employee of the Month' hits Blu-ray in a 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer, and the presentation is just OK. Having not seen the movie during its theatrical run, I can't say how faithful this transfer is to the source. But the film has such a processed, digital-icky look to it that I really didn't enjoy watching it as much as I should have.
At least the master is in good shape, with not a speck of dirt or any other blemishes noticeable. Blacks are solid, and contrast pretty poppy from light to dark. Whites, on the other hand, are a bit hot, which gives the image a harsh look and slightly washes out colors. Fleshtones are also rather awful -- I don't think I've ever seen a group of otherwise good-looking actors look this bad. Though Dane Cook's cragged face may never be a friend to the close-up, even Jessica Simpson looks pasty and waxy. Colors also have a weirdly overpumped yet drab look. Subsequently, image depth is decent but never really excels. Frat boys (and others, I'm sure) will be pleased to learn that there is still enough fine detail visible so that the, um, finer points of Simpson's physique are often clearly visable through her clothing. There is also ever-present noise throughout the transfer, and it's apparent even on complex textures and not just solid areas of color. I've seen worse high-def video than 'Employee of the Month' on Blu-ray, but I've also seen a lot better.
Lionsgate presents 'Employee of the Month' in both DTS-HD High-Definition 5.1 (not DTS-HD Master Lossless Audio) and Dolby Digital Surround EX, with an extra matrixed-in surround channel on the latter. However, the DTS-HD track is encoded at a full 1.5mbps versus 640kbps for the Dolby, so at least in terms of sheer raw specs, it gets the nod.
Regardless, there's not much in the way of sonic fireworks in 'Employee of the Month.' Quite frankly, surround is is meager enough that it really doesn't matter which track you choose. The most rear activity I heard was a scene involving a kid shooting tennis balls at Dane Cook -- this is hardly 'Armageddon.' In the rare moments with discrete activity, directionality and precision are fine enough. There is also some nice stereo separation on the nostalgic '70s tunes. Dynamics are also perfectly fine, with dialogue clear and well-recorded, and solid low bass. Just don't expect much.
Dane Cook and writer-director Greg Coolidge kick things off with a screen-specific audio commentary, while Coolidge himself goes into overkill with his own solo second track. Neither really provides anything terribly illuminating, but it's Cook and Coolidge all the way. There are the expected juvenile jokes, namely a preoccupation with the breast sizes of the various actresses, and shout-outs to all the (male) cast. (I would have liked to have heard more from Coolidge about what he perceived as on-set rivalry between the "alpha male" comics, but he glosses over it too quickly.) We also find out from Cook that he only worked with Jessica Simpson via blue screen because she was such a prima donna. Such jokes usually fall flat, which pretty much sums up these commentaries. Rather skippable, really.
The number of video extras on 'Employee of the Month' looks impressive, until you realize they are mostly just a handful of bloopers and improv bits that have cut up into a bunch of smaller pieces. There are five minutes of "Bloopers," two one-minute segments of "Ad-Libs," and four more minutes of "On-Set Shenanigans." There are the usual missed lines and "wacky" improvs, but the only bit that really made me laugh was Cook stripping down his shorts to recreate the infamous 'Silence of the Lambs' penis-tucked-between-the-legs dance.
The remaining two "featurettes" are actually just more on-set tomfoolery. "At Work with Lon" is another four-minutes of Andy Dick's character from the film making a nuisance of himself, while "The Men of Super Club" features all of the (male) actors in character, discussing the hard life that is retail. This one is moderately funny, but goes on way too long, clocking in at nine minutes.
By the time we get to the Deleted Scenes proper, it's hard to tell them apart from the rest of the extras. Four scenes are included, including an alternate opening, a Super Club mock-commercial that's actually quite funny (and includes an unbilled cameo by 'Desperate Housewives' vixen Eva Longoria).
Oddly, no theatrical trailer is included. But kudos to Lionsgate for presenting all of the disc's video-based extras in full 1080p video. Very nice.
'Employee of the Month' is a cute romantic comedy, but never really pushes its comedy far enough to be memorable. I like Dane Cook though, and look forward to seeing him in better, more original material. Like the movie itself, this Blu-ray release is nothing exceptional, but both the transfer and soundtrack do the job, and there are plenty of goofy extras for fans. Unless you really love Cook, I'd leave this one for a rental.