Sending It Back
It's been over ten years since Kevin Smith broke out with Clerks, an independent cinema landmark about a day in the lives of two twentysomething clerks. With its observant script, relatable characters and refreshingly brash attitude, the film found an audience almost instantly. Since then, there've been numerous pictures trying to cash in on the same idea of going behind the scenes of your average, everyday job and discovering that the people working there might not like you that much. But aside from Mike Judge's Office Space, nary a film has been able to capture the workplace-inspired wit of Smith's debut feature.
Rob McKittrick's Waiting is the latest such imitator, a comedy following the employees at a T.G.I. Friday's type establishment over the course of a dinner shift. Whereas Clerks and Office Space each had a strong sense of observance and a knack for turning frustrating situations at work into funny set pieces, Waiting spends 90 minutes stating the obvious and getting the viewers to gag more often than chuckle.
It's the start of another day at Shenanigan's, one of those restaurants with random stuff hung up on the walls, a friendly atmosphere, and a staff willing to do whatever it takes to make sure your meal is perfect...well, maybe not that last part. As Waiting goes on to reveal, the men and women behind Shenanigan's are a bunch so immersed in their own personal lives, work is the last place they want to be. Among the employees on duty tonight are:
-- Monty (Ryan Reynolds), a snarky waiter who alternates among helping customers, guiding trainee Mitch (John Francis Daley), bickering with ex-girlfriend/waitress Serena (Anna Faris), and being tempted to bed underage hostess Natasha (Vanessa Lengies).
-- Dean (Justin Long), a 22-year-old dude who finds himself at a crossroads in life when the boss (David Koechner) offers him an assistant manager position.
-- Raddimus (Luis Guzman), the head chef, who explains to Mitch the finer points of a game played by the male employees with their...err...well, let your imagination do the work here.
-- T-Dog (Max Kasch) and Nick (Andy Milonakis), two busboys who spend more time smoking pot and depleting the whipped cream supply than they do working.
And the list goes on (I haven't even touched upon the waiter who's deathly afraid of urinating in public), as these employees and a handful of others cross paths, encounter evil customers, and work together to make it through the dinner rush without going nuts.
If the above summary makes Waiting sound pretty thin on plot and unengaging when it comes to following its characters, then I've done my job. It's not that McKittrick lacks the elements for a solid flick, it's that he doesn't do anything with what he has. Aside from Dean, who mulls over being stuck at Shenanigan's for the rest of his life if he decides to accept the promotion, none of the characters share any complex personalities or traits that make them interesting.
Waiting is littered with half-completed storylines, tactless jokes, and one-note personalities who float around for the sole purpose of being pulled into the frame whenever McKittrick feels like making a snarky wisecrack or having someone do something ghastly to someone else's food. The characters here simply exist -- without contributing anything toward making the viewing experience more involving for the audience.
With Waiting, McKittrick gets the setting and the general atmosphere right. But what he doesn't do is allow any of the aspects of the film to move beyond the level of a rough draft. This story needs a hero figure, someone bringing focus to all the insanity and chaos taking place. Instead, McKittrick slaps a handful of candidates onscreen, forcing you to pick the one you like best, but none of them are all that interesting.
It's not the fault of the actors, because there's a talented bunch assembled here. Reynolds tries hard to break through the script's monotony with his trademark, troublemaking brand of snarkiness; Long is as sympathetic as he can get; and it's always good seeing Luis Guzman onscreen (although I saw more of him in this movie than I cared to, if you catch my drift), but there's no one character who jumps out and lets us see the story from his or her perspective.
Without focus, plot conflict, or involving characters, Waiting falls flat, and all we're left with are "revenge against the customers" vignettes and a running gag about the "game" that's stretched out far beyond the boundaries of where any joke about genetalia should go. Still, even with all its faults, this movie will probably find its audience, especially among moviegoers who like their comedies short and crass.
MY RATING: * 1/2 (out of ****)
(Released by Lions Gate Films and rated "R" for strong crude and sexual humor, pervasive language and some drug use.)