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(director/writer: Mike Judge; screenwriter: based on Mike Judge’s “Milton” animated shorts; cinematographer: Tim Suhrstedt; editor: David Rennie; music: John Frizzell; cast: Gary Cole (Bill Lumbergh), Ron Livingston (Peter Gibbons), Jennifer Aniston (Joanna, waitress), David Herman (Michael Bolton), Ajay Naidu (Samir), Stephen Root (Milton), John C. McGinley (Bob Slydell), Paul Wilson (Bob), Alexandra Wentworth (Anne), Diedrich Bader (Lawrence), Richard Riehle (Tom Smykowski), Todd Duffey (Brian, Chotchkie’s Waiter), Micheal McShane (Dr. Swanson), William King (Stan, Chotchkie’s Manager), Barbara George-Reiss (Peggy, Lumbergh’s Secretary), Orlando Jones (Steve, Magazine Salesman); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Michael Rotenberg/Daniel Rappaport; 20th Century Fox; 1999)

“A mildly funny satire on contemporary office work in America.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A mildly funny satire on contemporary office work in America is taken from Mike Judge’s 1991 “Milton” animated shorts and is written and directed by Mr. Judge. He created “Beavis and Butt-head” and “King of the Hill.” The simplistic aims show how the corporations are soulless, the bosses uncaring and the workforce is unhappy doing jobs they don’t want to do. With this in mind, the film gives its victimized workers the right to commit white collar crimes against the oppressor, such as give the company software a virus and scam money from its bank accounts. This stuff isn’t funny, even if you can somehow come to terms with its twisted moral compass. What it’s good at is showing the pettiness and tedium of office work that drives one to either rebellion, a death-like acceptance or suicide; and, that oddball always kvetching damaged goods office worker Milton (Stephen Root), who in his small part stole the film as the hilarious spaced-out company misfit.

It’s set in Houston, where computer programmer Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) is an unhappy camper stuck in his lifeless cubicle working for Initech and constantly harassed in a gentle way by his heartless boss Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole). To make matters worse Peter lives in a cramped apartment with paper-thin walls between the next apartment, which is just as depressing as his workplace. Also suffering in the workplace but too nerdy to openly complain about their daily indignities are his fellow computer programmers Samir (Ajay Naidu) and Michael Bolton (David Herman). Samir came from Saudi Arabia to live a better life and the running gag is that this Michael Bolton is not the famous pop singer but must always respond when people snidely ask him if he’s related. Since he’s bothered by this, it’s suggested he change his name to Mike. But he angrily responds “Why should I change my name? He’s the one who sucks.”

The droll humor is best dished out over boss Bill’s created illusion of the office being ‘one big happy family.’ But the boss is no sweetheart but really a phony who could care less about anyone under him and relishes the idea that the firm is undergoing downsizing with consultant Bob Slydell (John C. McGinley) and his equally genial but detached assistant Bob (Paul Wilson) around to see who gets canned.

Peter’s life unexpectedly changes for the better when his cheating and soon to be ex-girlfriend Anne (Alexandra Wentworth) drags the depressed dude to see an occupational hypnotherapist to relieve work stress and help iron things about their relationship. While Peter is under hypnosis, the overweight therapist, Dr. Swanson (Micheal McShane), keels over and dies. Being in the hypnotic state, Peter suddenly has a new outlook on life and acts boldly at work and pursues the hot but insecure Chotchkie’s coffee house waitress Joanna (Jennifer Anniston) he always wanted to date.

When the hardworking Samir and Bolton get canned while shirker Peter gets an unexpected promotion to a management position, the boys go into Plan A presented by Peter to put a financial hurt on the firm in order to get revenge. The film falls apart with a ridiculous feel-good ending, but had enough caffeine in its coffee to keep it going until that point.