Employee of the Month is that kind of flick. Zack (Dane Cook, trying real hard to be Ryan Reynolds) is an affable burnout who, after a flirtation with entrepreneurial respectability that left his grandmother's retirement a shambles, decided he should just lay low, as a box boy at a Costco-esque bulk retailer. For a decade.
This unbroken chain of irresponsibility snaps when a hot new cashier named Amy (Jessica Simpson, who gets to butcher human emotion in hot half-second bursts before director Greg Coolidge's camera cuts away in terror) transfers in. Driven by either lust or the wickedest preschool crush in history (his motivations aren't clear) and the information that Amy only dates the employee of the month, Zack sets about wresting that title from perpetual winner Vince (Dax Shepherd, who frosted his tips to disguise the fact that he's a dead ringer for Zach Braff). Vince, as we expect, is an overachieving dim wit.
Slacker flicks have two speeds: lifestyle indulgence and satire. This is such a truism that these films have become second nature to people (slackers) of a certain age, like pencils with intact lead. Someone should talk to screenwriters Don Calame, Chris Conroy and Greg Coolidge, because Employee of the Month is an irreparably broken humor tool. And it's making me contemplate my existence. This is not enjoyable.
The film is 80 percent an indulgence of how, on just about all levels, people (males) of my generation (say 18 to 35) think they're geniuses who just don't care enough to do anything with their intellect. We could succeed mightily if we weren't scared of responsibility. Fearing responsibility is a mental state my peers and I are thoroughly comfortable with. The Zack character, then, should be our underachieving Everyman.
The writing, though, isn't content to stay dumb and hedonistic. It doesn't let us bask in our desire to choose responsibility lackadaisically, just so we can sleep with Jessica Simpson. Calame, Conroy and Coolidge keep wanting to inject satire into the mix, which destroys the patina of dumb-joke indulgence. That'd be fine if the rest of the film weren't so clich & eacute;d and perfunctory, which makes the satirical elements grate. Worse, their stabs at intelligence fail as much as they succeed: For every clever -- and understated -- nod to David Mamet, there's a misfiring indictment of workplace homophobia. (And seriously, nothing jars you out of the flow of a slacker flick like a Glengarry Glen Ross reference.)
The point of indulgence is to wallow in our slackerdom, and the point of satire is to feel we've transcended it, but an incompetent mix of the two just makes us (the affable underachievers) feel crappy about the holes we dig for ourselves. Employee of the Month fails the synthesis badly, suggesting we're also powerless to dig ourselves out. It's depressing, then, to watch the film try and try and ultimately fail to be better than it is, because it forces me (you, us) to confront the fact that my (your, our) generation can only demarcate between losers and winners with cynicism, snark and the occasional ability to turn a good phrase.
As such, it's one of the most illustrative cinematic failures of my (your, our) young generation.