Steven Conrad returns to the directors chair for supermarket-based comedy The Promotion after scripting The Weather Man and The Pursuit of Happiness but the result is a listless affair. Despite the draw of John C. Reilly and Seann William Scott The Promotion struggles to provide any laughs.
Doug (Seann William Scott) is an assistant manager at a supermarket chain who wants more from his career. In his attempts to improve his quality of life and to buy a house to get out of the tiny apartment he shares with his wife (Jenna Fischer), Doug applies for the manager position at a soon to be opening store within his company. At the same time, much to Doug’s frustration, better qualified and all round nice guy Richard (John C. Reilly) arrives from a sister chain in Canada and instantly becomes a rival for the manager position.
Right from the off the issue of conformity is addressed. The colour scheme is flat, bright light is removed, the result is a hyper real but washed out world, the internal scenes are vaguely reminiscent of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love. It adds nicely to the sense of oppression that the film tries to conjure for Doug, a man who lives with his hands tied. After a promising start, however, the film fails to come to life.
There is a real lack of depth to both Doug as a character and the film in general. Beyond a few scenes at home with his wife there is nothing to learn about Doug, we don’t find out anything about who he is apart from knowing about his work like. It makes it hard to sympathise with him, or to connect with him, Doug seems remote, even more so when compared with Reilly’s Richard. We hear about Richard’s life before he moved to Chicago, we see some hobbies that he occupies his free time with. Ultimately, though, the film never shakes the feeling of just being about some guys vying for promotion.
Comedy, however, doesn’t have to be stacked with subtext or profundity if it is funny. During my watch of The Promotion I mustered one or two small laughs. A poor show when the talent is considered. There is a distinct lack of chemistry between Seann William Scott and John C. Reilly, who I ordinarily admire greatly in his comedic and dramatic roles. A stale joke about how polite Canadians are and some lewd jokes that would add up to sexual harassment in the work place set the standard and even at such a low level it is rarely surpassed. Bobby Cannavale puts in a funny turn as Jen’s idyllic boss who talks up his improbable heroic deeds and some of the other supporting cast offer up mild chuckles but for the most part The Promotion is a laughter-free environment.
The Promotion is disappointingly plain in the end. I was never bored watching it but with a cast this good I expected much more. Steven Conrad shows visual flair but his comedic ear seriously lets him down. As does his ear for accents. Lili Taylor plays Richard’s wife Laurie and is responsible for perhaps the worst Scottish accent I have ever heard in a film and the most damning thing you can say about The Promotion is that it’s the most memorable thing.
Director: Steven Conrad
Running Time: 86 minutes
Special Features: Deleted scenes and a 20 minute making-of.