Mike Judge’s “Office Space” is a fine example of a film that doesn’t have a film’s worth of jokes in it, and as a result it’s only half as good as it could have been. The movie follows Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston), a white-collar computer programmer whose life is going nowhere. Work sucks, but that’s only the beginning of Peter’s problems. He hates life, hates himself, and the highlight of his Fridays is sneaking out of work before his boss can assign him weekend overtime.
Peter’s life changes after a trip to a psychiatrist with his girlfriend Anne (Alexandra Wentworth), where Peter is hypnotized into a blissful state just before the psychiatrist who is hypnotizing him keels over and dies from a massive stroke. Stuck in his hypnotized state, Peter has a new lease on life. Instead of quitting his job, he decides not to go in anymore; he also finds the courage to approach Joanna (Jennifer Aniston), a waitress at a local restaurant.
What follows is Peter living the carefree life, going into work just long enough to get his phone book or to play some quick games on the computer. As Peter tells Joanna, he’s always wanted to find out how much it would take to get fired. It’s during this 30 minutes or so stretch that “Office Space” really shines. The film becomes riotously funny as Peter destroys his office cubicle, guts a fresh fish at his desk, and admits to two efficient experts that he “spaces out” at work and only does about 15 minutes of actual work in any given week.
Written and directed by Mike Judge, “Office Space” will appeal to anyone who has had to sit in an office cubicle for longer than a week. It’s a dull, tedious, and unrewarding job that requires repetition over creativity. In a nutshell, it’s the kind of job that makes your mind wander and informs you that you are definitely not where you want to be in life. For those of us who knows the hell that is a 9-to-5 desk job, “Office Space” does what we’ve always wanted to do. There’s also a scene where Peter steals and then destroys the company’s troublesome copy machine that, once again, will appeal to any office worker.
Judge, known mostly as the mastermind of the MTV cartoon hit “Beavis and Butthead”, also brings back a character that is obviously dear to his heart, Milton. Played by Stephen Root (TV’s “Newsradio”), Milton is the ultimate beaten-down office worker. Old, alone, single, and having lost so much self-respect that everyone walks over him. Milton has been around as long as Judge has been around. I remember seeing the character on Judge’s animation skits in “Saturday Night Live” years before “Office Space”.
While “Office Space” is really good when it’s good, it’s really dull when it’s dull. The film loses a lot of steam once Peter somewhat snaps out of his blissful state and concocts a plan, along with two co-workers, to steal money from his company. David Herman plays Michael Bolton, a nerd who listens to rap music in his car (with the windows closed, of course) because people keep asking if he’s related to the singer Michael Bolton. Ajay Naidu plays the third co-worker, an Indian immigrant who worries that their scheme will land him in jail or deported.
I suppose Judge realized early on that he couldn’t maintain a whole movie with just Peter revolting against the office establishment, thus the inclusion of the theft in the film’s second half. In a surprising move, the movie’s soundtrack is filled with rap music, including the Ghetto Boys’ “Damn it Feels Good to be a Gangsta.” Although the inclusion of the music seems odd at first, it actually works very well.
Still I can’t help shake the feeling that “Office Space” would have worked better as a 1-hour movie. Its first half is brimming with realized comedy, while its second half just sits there like a useless appendage. Still, it’s better to have one good half than no good half at all, which is sometimes the case with some Hollywood comedies nowadays.
Mike Judge (director) / Mike Judge (screenplay)
CAST: Ron Livingston …. Peter Gibbons
Jennifer Aniston …. Joanna
David Herman …. Michael Bolton
Gary Cole …. Bill Lumbergh
Stephen Root …. Milton Waddams