Imagine a live-action version of "Dilbert," or "In the Company of Men" reconceived as a lighthearted romp, and you get the idea of "Office Space," the auspicious live-action debut of Mike Judge.
Judge is best known for such animated creations as Beavis, Butt-head and Hank Hill ("King of the Hill"), but he proves just as observant and funny in his first foray into the world of three-dimensional characters in this modest comedy of corporate manners.
The quiet humor of "Office Space" becomes clear in its first scene, in which Peter (Ron Livington), sits in bumper-to-bumper traffic while a geezer using a walker veritably whizzes past him.
Once Peter makes it to work -- at a dreary software company -- his drone-like routine begins. He's reprimanded by his smarmy boss (Gary Cole), who begins every sentence with a pseudo-mellow, "What's happening?" and every order with, "I'm going to go ahead and ask you to " He suffers the paranoid natterings of Milton (Stephen Root) in the office next door. And he drags co-workers Michael Bolton (David Herman, who appropriately enough, resembles a shaggier Bill Gates) and Samir (Ajay Naidu) out for coffee where he can pine for the waitress he has a crush on (Jennifer Aniston) and lament life in the high-tech hive.
But after a hypnotherapy session goes awry, Peter's attitude undergoes a sea-change. Suddenly, he doesn't give a bit or a byte about reports, memos or sucking up to the boss. He starts skipping work, and when he does come in, it's to clean the fish he's caught.
The more apathetic Peter becomes, the more desirable he becomes. "He's a straight shooter," says a persnickety management consultant played by John C. McGinley, "with upper management written all over him."
"Office Space" doesn't follow through with this amusing premise. But even an uneven story presents Judge with a chance to prove his canny ear for contemporary office politics, and his eye for the generic suburban landscape that defines life for so many modern wage slaves.
One need look no further than a scene of cubicle gangstas whacking a recalcitrant copier to experience the unassuming but singularly cathartic pleasures of this refreshingly unpretentious comedy.
Starring Ron Livingston, Jennifer Aniston
Directed by Mike Judge Released by 20th Century Fox
Rated R (language, sexuality)
Running time 90 minutes
Sun score * * *
Pub Date: 2/19/99