Three million dollars generally doesn't buy much in Hollywood. Stretching every dime, you might be able to get a low-grade name actor, a basic crew, and a backlot director -- if you're lucky. But give three million dollars to a guy working at T.G.I. Friday's and these limitations apparently no longer apply. Three million was all it took for rookie writer/director Rob McKittrick to turn a script he wrote (while waiting tables) into a trendy indie comedy that caught the attention of male adolescents across the country. 'Waiting' has an impressive ensemble cast and a solid cinema aesthetic -- but is this little-indie-that-could worth your time?
Dean (Justin Long) has been stuck in the same job since high school, waiting tables at a local theme restaurant called Shenaniganz. While his co-worker Monty (Ryan Reynolds) has accepted the hope-numbing fact that he's in for the long haul, Dean dreams of bigger and better things, so he finds himself at a crossroads when he's offered an assistant manager position at the restaurant -- should he get out while he can, or sell his soul to Shenaniganz and its manager, Dan (David Koechner)? Aside from this central dilemma, the film is also peppered with tales of constant conflict between the kitchen staff (Luis Guzman, Dane Cook and Chi McBride among others) and the waiters (Anna Faris, Jordan Ladd, and Rob Benedict), a wide-eyed trainee (John Francis Daley) who's introduced to the behind-the-scenes eccentricities of a restaraunt, and an ongoing battle with an endless wave of rude and arrogant customers.
Sound mildly familiar? Unfortunately it is -- the film feels like a tired blend of 'Clerks' and 'Office Space' that's been set inside a restaurant. Perhaps I was wrong to expect that an indie flick that garnered this much buzz and attention would bring something fresh to the table, but 'Waiting' clumsily stomps through its story with obvious jokes, ordinary setups, and a reliance on cheap gross-out gags to sell its laughs.
So what sort of shenanigans are you in for at Shenaniganz? An overplayed flashing contest (blandly named "The Penis-Showing Game"), an awkward sexual pursuit of an underage waitress, obvious food tainting, two annoying busboys (instead of Jay and Silent Bob, imagine Jay and Jay) and some very strange character beats from a waiter who laments about his not-so-amusing phobias.
Like most comedies, 'Waiting' is difficult to review because humor tends to be a very subjective thing. I personally tend to rely on character development to generate my laughter. As such, I really connected to the flawed protagonists in 'Office Space' and 'Clerks,' and found myself rooting for them in spite of their antics. But the characters in 'Waiting' are so thinly drawn, and so mean-spirited and over-the-top that I had a hard time feeling anything other than a severe distaste for them.
Making matters worse, the narrative set-ups tend to be both predictable and repetitive. I've never worked in a restaurant but I could have come up with everything in this script just using my imagination. I've been terrified of what cooks could do to my food for years, but despite its fervent intentions, 'Waiting' never threw anything on the screen that I haven't worried about in the past. The only thing that comes as a surprise is that a real waiter wasn't able to put anything in his script that would actually catch me off guard.
Don't get me wrong, there are certainly laughs to be had in 'Waiting,', and I'm sure fans of more mindless comedies (such as 'Van Wilder') will enjoy the film. Unfortunately, as much as I personally wanted to love this flick, instead I found myself constantly wishing it was over. Another entry in a long line of gross-out comedies, 'Waiting' is a fairly banal exercise in predictable humor that never reaches the heights of better films that clearly inspired it.
(Note that the version of 'Waiting' on this Blu-ray release is the "Unrated and Raw" cut of the film, which adds in an additional three minutes of raunchier material, but the additional footage is inconsequential to the plot.)
Presented in 1080p using the AVC MPEG-4 codec, 'Waiting' looks quite good, especially compared to its faded, blocky standard DVD counterpart. According writer/director McKittrick, the print damage and noise of the DVD and the theatrical cut have been digitally eliminated for this Blu-ray release. Happily, this new transfer doesn't have the waxy textures of some high-def releases that have undergone the same process.
Colors are vibrant, skintones are dead on, and a stable palette adds a convincing level of depth to the image that makes foreground elements pop. Backgrounds are no slouch either, with fine object detail another key asset to the film's transfer. While there is a bit of occasional softness, elements like the trinkets that line the restaurant walls are clearly defined and text is a cinch to read most of the time. The transfer also has inky black levels and good shadow delineation -- there were a few corners that looked a bit dark for my taste, but the image is convincingly three dimensional. At first glance, all would seem well here.
However, upon closer examination, the picture doesn't hold up as quite as perfectly as it could. Not only did I detect occasional noise in flat areas of color (look for this in a few shots of the kitchen walls), I caught several instances of artifacting in faces during close-ups. This is only a slight nuisance, but it seems to pop up from time to time throughout the entire film, and will definitely be an issue for those with large projection screens.
Considering that 'Waiting' is a 94 minute movie that comes on a 50GB disc, it's beyond me why compression artifacts like these couldn't have been resolved. The message boards tend to explode when I suggest that the number of supplemental features packed on a release like this might be to blame, but I'll say it again. A disc only has so much space, and variable video bitrates make it feasible that a studio would sacrifice a bit of video quality to be able to include more audio and supplemental options on a release.
In spite of the video noise, this transfer of 'Waiting' should certainly please fans of the film. This Blu-ray edition is a vivid and significant upgrade from DVD, and the overall picture quality is particularly impressive for a three million dollar film.
'Waiting' features an uncompressed PCM 7.1 surround mix (48 kHz/6.1 Mbps) that showcases crisp dialogue, nice prioritization, and convincing channel movement. The dynamics are more than acceptable for a subdued soundscape -- treble ranges are unwavering and the bass tones add a welcome oomph to the voices and effects. The film's music sounds rounded and rich compared to the DVD, and fans will be absolutely ecstatic to hear how crystal clear everything sounds. 'Waiting' also includes a Dolby Digital EX 5.1 (640 kbps) surround mix, but the dialogue on that track tends to have slight pitch issues and its bass more throaty compared to the PCM track.
Having said all that, like a lot of recent high-def releases with top tier audio specs, this 7.1 monster tends to be under-served by its material -- 'Waiting' just doesn't have the kind of soundfield that can truly benefit from an advanced audio mix such as this. I'm certainly not going to complain about its inclusion, but consider yourself warned: the film is a conversation-driven comedy and the front three speakers dominate the soundfield. While the rear speakers chime in with ambient presence every now and then, more often than not, they're quiet. People looking to show off their home theater audio equipment won't be able to do it here.
That being said, the uncompressed PCM track deftly handles everything 'Waiting' tosses its way and fans will be happy to hear a faithful representation of how the film sounded in theaters.
Almost all of the supplemental features that were available on the standard DVD have been ported over this Blu-ray release -- the only missing extra is "Sending it Back," a six minute collection of horror stories from actual waiters.
First up is the "Expanded Telestrator Commentary" (2 hours and 10 minutes), a hybrid audio/video commentary that plays the movie with audio comments, but allows the director to pause the screen and even circle areas of interest. While this was quite an interesting feature on standard DVD, high-def releases are capable of doing a lot more, and it loses some of its luster in this context. The comments are amusing and the anecdotes are often better than the bulk of the film, but McKittrick relies on his sarcasm and cynicism a bit too much for my taste, and I ultimately found this commentary somewhat grating.
Next, you'll find the best feature on the disc -- "The Works" documentary (85 minutes). While the packaging labels this feature as a "video commentary," it's actually a straight-forward making-of doc that occasionally gives you the option of watching additional video commentary bits. By clicking on a hot dog symbol that occasionally appears on the screen, you'll be whisked away to a variety of bits (some exclusive to Blu-ray, according to the Director's introduction -- see below). You can also access the extra scenes separately in a feature menu called "Side Dishes."
The main documentary is well worth the time and I found myself wanting to skip the extra featurettes sprinkled throughout. The cast and crew are quite funny as they discuss the trials and tribulations of restaurant work, and describe the on-set fun in great length. The documentary covers everything from pre-production to the film's soundtrack and score.
(A strange side note -- while I was watching "The Works" with both my Sony BDP-S1 Player, I wasn't able to access the disc's pop-up menu or return to the main menu. Instead, I had to flip through the entire documentary to get out. This problem appeared again in the Blu-ray exclusive look at the premiere. I revisited these two features later with my PS3, and encountered the same issue.)
Things tend to unravel from there in terms of quality. "That Little Extra" (19 minutes) is a shorter, promotional behind-the-scenes featurette that tends to get a little repetitive. A group of "Deleted Scenes" (6 minutes) fizzle out rather quickly, while a collection of "Alternate Takes" (9 minutes) is just that -- clips that showcase the actors doing multiple rounds of ad-libs. Finally, some "Outtakes" (5 minutes) try to spice up the mood but generally consist of a lot of group laughter ruining takes.
(Note that all of the standard features listed above are presented cleanly in 480i/p widescreen with the MPEG-2 codec.)
While I personally didn't love 'Waiting,' one man's trash is another man's treasure -- use your opinion of similar movies like 'Van Wilder' to predict how much you'll enjoy this one. However, regardless of the film itself, this is undeniably a great Blu-ray disc, featuring a huge upgrade to the video, an uncompressed 7.1 audio track, and a seemingly endless amount of extras. A no-brainer for fans of 'Waiting,' this one is well worth the cost of the upgrade.