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The Promotion Is A Bit Incomplete for Success

The Promotion
Written and directed by Steve Conrad
Third Rail Releasing/Dimension, 2008

Some indies are so lacking you wonder what exactly made name actors do the project. It’s certainly not the paycheck, unless I’m underestimating the kinds of paychecks a movie like this rewards actors. And then, you can’t think it’s the script or the need to be an artist rather than a “movie star.” So then, what’s left?

The Promotion is one of those movies you run across on premium movie channels that you probably never heard of, but will give a chance if there’s nothing else on. After all, it has people you’ve seen before: Seann William Scott plays Doug, an assistant manager at a grocery store who seems to be a shoo-in to be the general manager of a new store opening soon. He’s got a wife (Jenna Fischer) and life looks good. However, the store imports the Canadian Richard (John C. Reilly) to his store and he immediately has competition.

Richard is a recovering alcoholic with a Scottish wife (Lili Taylor) and a child. Both Richard and Doug begin to passive-aggressively fight for the GM position as “The Board” comes to make a visit, personified by The Shawshank Redemption’s Gil Bellows. Both take turns basically trying not to look as bad as the other guy, kind of like a Presidential election. Unfortunately for Doug, he has to be out on the lot as a security guy for the most part. And he has to dance around being firm with the rough-edged customers who hang out in the parking lot and not pissing them off, which of course for this film is nearly impossible. Meanwhile, it seems like Richard has got the advantage, staying inside the store and being seen with more responsibility.

Trying to keep the peace between the two is the general manager played by Fred Armisen. He’s exactly the kind of guy we’ve all worked for: he’s an absentee boss who leaves the store to go run personal errands or goof off.

In a way, the movie sets up both Richard and Doug as sympathetic characters, both deserving of the job, but the movie undeniably favors Doug overall. It’s at its best when it sets up moral dilemmas for them to conquer, usually torn between telling the truth and backing up a fellow co-worker. But the movie ultimately has no weight; it makes the decision as to who will get the job from a lame plot device that absolves writer/director Conrad (who wrote the screenplays for The Weather Man and The Pursuit of Happyness) from making a truly fair (or more interestingly, unfair) decision on his own.

Plus, the movie wastes two fine actresses: Jenna Fischer I believe has the ability to be much more than what she’s been in the small roles she’s played. She has no character except for “supportive wife” here. And holy crap, Lili Taylor. Taylor has always been one of the better character actresses, but to show up here as a wife and then disappear for most of the movie is a serious waste of talent. Anybody could play these roles.

It’s enjoyable for the most part, but it’s ultimately lacking and could have been a much stronger movie with a lot more to say.

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