In a hilarious take on life in mid-management hell, two junior managers at a Chicago grocery store vie for a coveted promotion, while their wives and their co-workers can only stand back and watch how far the one-upmanship will go to get the job done.
In its low-key, offbeat way, The Promotion
represents such a relief from the onslaught of raucous, anything-for-a-yok comedies that one can't help feeling grateful. This directorial debut of Steve Conrad, who wrote the Will Smith comedy-drama The Pursuit of Happyness
, offers a lot to like--ingratiating performances, some funny scenes and knowing touches, and actually being about something: the real-world dilemmas that go with needing a job and having a hard time getting or hanging on to one. But "low-key" is a friendly way of saying the movie's a mite slack, and the trouble with "offbeat" is that you can't always be sure there is
a beat. Chief location is a scuffed-up supermarket in an inner-city Chicago neighborhood "where customers come first, even customers who are nuts," and local youth in the parking lot bedevil shoppers and staff out of boredom. The assistant manager, Doug (Seann William Scott, far from Stiffler mode), aspires to be given charge of a new, slightly more upscale market the company is opening. He's encouraged to believe he has the inside track--except who's this guy Richard (John C. Reilly), freshly emigrated from Canada and suddenly competing for the promotion in a deferential, north-of-the-border fashion that can't even be called passive-aggressive?
The stars deliver shaded performances that never turn buffoonish--even Reilly's aria of comic desperation in which the phrase "bad apples" takes an irretrievably ruinous turn as he speaks with some black civic leaders. They get yeoman support from Jenna Fischer and Lili Taylor in the underwritten roles of the rivals' wives, Fred Armisen as the guys' feckless superior, Gil Bellows as a psychobabbly corporate exec, and Jason Bateman in a cameo as a motivational speaker working a company picnic. --Richard T. Jameson