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'Employee of the Month'

Dane Cook, the worst movie leading man since -- Pauly Shore? No? Toby Keith! -- makes his starring debut in "Employee of the Month." He mastered the moves of a slacker who's fallen into a "career" at a Sam's Club clone -- literally "skating" through a job he hates with other losers in little blue vests. He just doesn't do anything funny or show any screen presence as he runs through those moves.

It's a promising idea -- a workplace comedy set in a workplace a lot of people, especially young ones, can identify with -- a soulless stack-to-the-ceiling "big box" discount store -- a place that substitutes pep talks and "team spirit" for benefits, a living wage and a chance for advancement.

It may be a union shop, but the message here, as in the earlier just-as-promising "Waiting..." is that this is a job, not a career. And it will suck away years of your life and your hopes for the future if you aren't careful.

Strangely enough, Cook, a stand-up of some repute, was also in "Waiting..." Coincidence?

Zach (Cook) has burned away 10 years at Super Club, and he's done it without breaking a sweat. He finds others to do his work for him. He swipes merchandise with impunity, sometimes for himself, sometimes for customers. He and some pals (Andy Dick, Harland Williams and Seinfeld alum Brian George) have built their own "lounge" hidden high in the stacks.

And that's been good enough up until now. But Amy (Jessica Simpson), the new cashier, just transferred in from another store. And her rep? She goes all gooey over guys who win the Employee of the Month award. Zach's nemesis, Vince (Dax Shepard, Zach Braff's blond twin), owns that award. He's about to land a "brand newish 2005 Malibu" for winning Employee of the Month many, many months in a row.

Zach isn't about to let that happen. He has to be like Vince if he has a prayer. And Vince, who flirts and does juggling tricks at his cash register, wants Amy for himself. If only his dopey protege Jorge (Pedro from "Napoleon Dynamite," Efrem Ramirez) were more help.

The movie was shot with a leer by director Greg Coolidge, who never fails to frame the shapely Miss Simpson so that her cleavage fills the bottom third of the screen. She must be the reason the movie is so sloppily shot and cut. Edits don't match up in the conversation scenes, actors are out of position.

The promise here is in the way this rarely-shown working-class world is brought to life. A romantic "night in the store" bit has a moment when the night janitor rolls by, singing opera. The cynicism of the other employees, fostered by phoney-baloney managers who preach "team" and "family" while dictating mandatory "outside activities," is worth building on.

Shepard is as amusing as the material allows him to be. Vince's feud with Zach has a chuckle or two in it, mostly thanks to him.

But whatever that "it" is that comic screen stars have, Cook doesn't have it. The timing isn't there, the sparkle, the Ryan Reynolds sneer. He's just bland. Simpson, so apt at playing dumb, also shows no personality here.

And when the bland meet the blond, it's not exactly a "blue light special."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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