Boston's Alternative Source! image!

R: ARCHIVE, S: MOVIES, D: 02/18/1999,

Office Space

After the scatology and nasty attitude of his first film, Beavis and Butt-head Do America, Mike Judge, creator of the original TV series as well as the more genteel King of the Hill, turns surprisingly civilized in his first live-action feature. Based on "Milton," his animated shorts that predated reigning cubicle king Dilbert in lampooning the contemporary corporate wasteland, Office Space makes a case for common decency with scarcely a fart joke or gratuitous tit shot (there's one -- a breast-cancer exam shown on TV). Sure, it's funny, but its humor springs not so much from gross-out shock as from the shock of recognition.

Most, for example, will sympathize with Judge's hero, Peter (Ron Livingston, ideal in his bewildered blandness). Lost in the partitioned rat-maze of Initech, bedeviled by his passive-aggressive boss Lumbergh (a satanically breezy Gary Cole), and haunted by the thought of doing the same job when he's 50, Peter takes advantage of a hypnotherapy session gone wrong to reclaim his life. Blessed with newfound indifference, he ignores his superiors, seldom shows up, hits on a cute waitress named Joanna (Jennifer Aniston, a plot addendum), and comes to the attention of the two consultants brought in to downsize the company. They see him as management material and have him promoted.

Midway through, though, Judge declines to make Office Space a slacker version of Being There, instead opting for a half-assed revenge of the nerds as Peter and fellow drones Michael Bolton (David Herman; and yes, the obvious jokes on the name are made) and Samir (Ajay Naidu; and no, the obvious ethnic jokes are seldom indulged) plot a computer rip-off. The real subversion, however, comes from the original Milton (Stephen Root), the ultimate persecuted Everyman. Muttering, terrified, swelling with rage and acne, he may be squeezed into the background, but he gets the last laugh.

-- Peter Keough