Office Space Movie Review

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Mike Judge has an abstruse, shadowy, pessimistic but frightfullyobservant sense of humor.

The scruffy animator and humor-askewed creator of "Beavisand Butthead" and "King of the Hill," he has a style tohis comedy that just drips irony from every punch line. Judge, it seems,sees civilization crumbling around him and thinks to himself, "Thisif funny stuff."

It's this corkscrew point of view that made "Beavisand Butthead" a perceptive satire of teenage apathy, even though onthe surface it appealed only to the gene pool bottom feeders that the showwas about. It's also the reason "Office Space," Judge's firstlive-action feature as a writer and director, is such a sharp satire ofthe stale, numbing existence of the American office drone.

The movie stars Ron Livingston ("Swingers")as Peter Gibbons, a discontented cubicle jockey at a nondescript computerfirm whose ears ring at night with the sounds of the office and who spendshis Friday afternoons dodging boss after boss (he has eight of them) toavoid mandates of weekend overtime.

But when Peter is dragged to a hypnotherapist by his estrangedgirlfriend, he dumb-lucks into a whole new perspective on life. Just ashe's being put under by this quack, the shrink has a heart attack and dies,leaving Peter half-hypnotized and in a halcyon haze.

Ignoring his girlfriends accusations of insensitivity,he goes home and blissfully sleeps trough what was supposed to be a workingweekend. On Monday, he lackadaisically shows up at the office in the lateafternoon, parks in boss' spot and, during a meeting with a pair of efficiencyexperts brought in to clean house, explains his new philosophy: "Itisn't that I'm lazy, I just don't care."

Of course, the efficiency experts are so taken aback bythis revolutionary thinking that Peter is put on the fast track for promotion.

"Office Space" is based on a series of animatedshorts Judge created some years back that resembled an R-rated "Dilbert."Those shorts featured an mousy, inconsequential office nerd named Milton-- the kind of guy who comes to work with a full Thermos and an empty-briefcase.

In the movie, Milton has been regulated to a supportingrole -- perfectly underplayed by Stephen Root, the cocky billionaire stationowner on "News Radio," in inch-thick glasses and acne scars --in favor of Peter, a more vital character and a cynic's Everyman, who decidesif he's being promoted, he's going to help his friends who got canned (DavidHerman and Ajay Naidu).

The three of them hatch a computer-virus embezzlement schemethat goes awry, sending Peter hurtling back toward the stressed-out lifestylehe'd just overcome.

Livingston's deeply embedded smirk gives great personalityto Peter's newfound pluck. His sublime indifference to what anyone elsethinks leads him to jump at the kind of chances most people pass on, andits a delightfully vicarious experience.

At lunch one day, he stops the waitress he's had a crushon for months (Jennifer Aniston) and just blurts out "I want to takeyou out to dinner then go back to my place and watch 'Kung Fu.'"

Later, he goes fishing in the morning before showing upat the office in the late afternoon, gutting the fish at his desk and disassemblingone wall of his cubicle to give himself a view out the window, which finallydumbfounds his most direct boss, a coffee cup-clutching Prozac patient,played beautifully by Gary Cole, who has had all his humanity sensitivity-trainedright out of him.

Judge's comedic scrutiny of the day-to-day weirdness wetake for granted gives "Office Space" a refreshingly slantedsense of humor. He can take something as workaday as a commute-hour trafficjam and turn it into an opening scene that has tears of laughter runningdown people's faces.

He also shows a talent for mimicry that could be put togood use in the near-comatose spoof genre. At one point, he adds a rapsoundtrack to a slow-motion scene of three co-workers take a baseball batto a fax machine. The result looks like "Boyz N the Hood" transplantedto an office park. It's one of the funniest scenes in the movie.

These kinds of gags make "Office Space" funnierthan the same story would have been from anyone else in Hollywood becausethis kind of left field humor simply wouldn't occur to 99 percent of thecomedy writers out there.

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Office Space Rating

" OK "

Rating: R, Friday, February 19, 1999

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