As uneven and unfocused as Office Space is, it hits home with enough jokes to make it an enjoyable comedy.
You’d think a movie about life in a cubicle would necessarily resemble Dilbert. But Office Space gives itself some distance from the outlandish comic strip by having more humanly interesting characters and being much more insightful. Instead of going for the broad, exaggerated gags (well, it goes for them too), it goes for the more mundane, subtle comedy and irony of being a Gen-X drone.
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For example, Peter (Ron Livingston) begins every day with an unavoidable static electric shock as he opens the door to the Initech offices. All the professionals drive plain, silver Toyotas and live in apartments that look like they’re furnished by Target. As naïve and whitebread as they are, they still listen to gangsta rap. Their detached, monotonous, mockable boss decorates his office with “Cathy” cartoons.
Then again, some of the gags are just too obvious to be funny, like the elderly man outrunning the flow of the traffic jam, or the squeaky-pitched receptionist incessantly answering the phone across from Peter, or Michael’s (David Herman) heated, personal feud with his printer.
The movie seems like a string of these skits, corralled together by their common office setting. (Jennifer Aniston is introduced as a love interest, which allows the movie to run a few gags at the “Bennigans”-style restaurant where she works.) But eventually, one idea starts to take shape as the movie’s main plot: Peter stops caring about work after a hypnotherapist fails to take him out of a trance. Ironically, his new attitude boosts him up the corporate ladder, even as his hard-working friends are being laid off.
Peter has not forgotten his friends, though, and to show his solidarity with them, he helps them come up with a scheme to embezzle money from Initech.
If Mike Judge had more guts, or any respect for his “work sucks” message, his protagonists would have stuck it to the man and gotten away with it. They could have been downsized Davids putting one over on the corporate Goliath. Wouldn’t that be a glorious, triumphant message in this age of corporations denigrating their employees and customers in order to worship their shareholders?
But it quickly becomes clear that our heroes are too clean and meek to make good criminals. They fit the sitcom-character mold that says they have to end the episode where they started. You can deduce, even without seeing it, that in order for our heroes to get out of the mess they made, the movie will necessarily have a contrived, deus ex machina ending.
Office Space has the look and feel of a low-budget student film, with cheap sets, lots of gags, and a few unknown actors. Combined with the moth-eaten, patchwork plot, a less funny movie could have been downright bad. But luckily for Judge — and for us — Office Space actually is funny. Not always, but often enough.