Employee Of The Month mercilessly surveys a milieu where workers live in stark terror of bullying bosses, self-styled "mentors" heap abuse on their cowed protégés, and dead-eyed drones accept a poisonous status quo rather than risk something worse. If not for fart jokes, peppy pop songs, and shots of Dane Cook getting hit in the nuts with tennis balls, it'd be tempting to mistake the film for a wallow in working-class miserablism instead of a lowbrow slobs-vs.-slobs comedy.
In a performance channeling the robotic smugness of his Waiting co-star Ryan Reynolds, superstar stand-up comic Cook stars as a slacker who's toiled as a box boy at a Sam's Club-like super-store for a solid decade while his arch-nemesis Dax Shepard rapidly climbed the corporate ladder. Shepard is on track to win his 18th consecutive employee of the month award—and with it, a sweet-ass Chevy Malibu—when Cook learns that new employee Jessica Simpson has a fetish for employees of the month. He instantly morphs from underachiever to overachiever in his bid to win Simpson and thwart Shepard. But if Simpson is really so shallow that she'll hop into bed with anyone who wins an arbitrary award, is she really that desirable a prize?
At best, Employee Of The Month hints at how stores can become universes unto themselves, complete with their own tangled histories and Byzantine class systems. But the genial camaraderie between Cook and his clique of disgruntled slackers (including Harland Williams and Andy Dick, who lets a pair of Coke-bottle-thick glasses do his work for him) is tainted by the film's pervasive mean streak. And at 103 interminable minutes, Employee Of The Month affords far too much time to contemplate the abundant plot holes and inconsistencies. For example, Shepard is revered as the fastest cashier in town. (That's a major plot point, sadly enough.) Yet he seems to devote five minutes per transaction to showing off with a series of Cocktail-style stunts and impossibly energetic gymnastic routines. Still, maybe it's fitting that Shepard can simultaneously be seen as a wonderfully dense lawyer in Idiocracy, Mike Judge's criminally overlooked satire of cultural de-evolution, and this colossal time-waster, which is itself a symptom of cinematic de-evolution run amok.