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Company Man


Company Man

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Even with seasoned talent on both sides of the camera, a lot can go wrong on the long road from the page to the screen. Still, it's a rare and awe-inspiring phenomenon when everything goes wrong, like a full symphony imitating the uncanny squeak of a prepubescent boy. It's been an especially long road for the disastrous Company Man, which was held up for more than a year due to a $1.5 million lawsuit over the final cut and a month of subsequent re-shoots. If it were possible to divorce the content of co-writers/directors Peter Askin and Douglas McGrath's script from the bungled timing, histrionic performances, and slapdash editing in the finished (81-minute) film, it would probably read reasonably well. Borrowing heavily from Woody Allen (with whom McGrath wrote the stellar Bullets Over Broadway), the story fuses the third-world revolutionary setting and see-what-sticks comedy style of Bananas with Zelig's ironic brushes with history. But the Allen-worship should have stopped before McGrath decided to cast himself in the lead role of a feckless Connecticut grammar teacher turned CIA operative in early-'60s Cuba. While he's okay with language—the film's funniest scene has him unwittingly exposing a double agent (Denis Leary) by compulsively correcting him on linking verbs and double negatives—McGrath looks stiff around the other actors and shows no talent for physical shtick. Playing the man responsible for the Bay Of Pigs debacle, among other events, McGrath seems to have affected the rest of the cast with his presence; many of them turn in career-worst performances. After assisting in the defection of a famous Russian dancer (Ryan Phillippe, who shouldn't be allowed within 100 yards of a foreign accent), McGrath is hired by the CIA and sent to Cuba just as Castro (Anthony LaPaglia) has seized power from Batista, played as an effete bourgeois snob by Alan Cumming. With the help of misfit agents Woody Allen and John Turturro, McGrath cooks up hare-brained assassination plots while wife Sigourney Weaver collects juicy material for a book, imploring him to "overthrow the government in a highly readable, unputdownable way." All the elements of a classic farce are in place, but Company Man's screwball antics are so clumsy and arrhythmic that they look more like frantic, increasingly desperate cries for help. A few one-liners hit their mark, but unlike Allen's crude, scattershot early comedies, Company Man doesn't string enough of them together to get through the lame gags and endless lulls. There's a great movie hidden somewhere within Company Man, but it's not worth the energy and imagination it would take to find it.