To be fair, Employee of the Month is not a bad movie. It's just not a very good one either. Pic, which takes place in a Costco-like store called Club Super, feels a lot like its setting; the cast, the jokes and the story all come in bulk with very little quality attached to them. Dane Cook (who's recently made the transition from world's most popular stand-up comedian to that dude who stars in mediocre films) plays Zack, a guy who still lives with his grandma, has no car and never aspired to be anything more than box boy at the local Club Super -- a job he's owned for years.
While Zack has perfected his underachiever status, Vince (Dax Shepard) is the complete opposite. As a cashier (known to have the fastest hands in the Southwest with a 9.1 pass-through rate), Vince has won employee of the month 17 times in a row. At the beginning of the film, the employees of Club Super are told that if Vince wins the prize for a 18th time (a new store record), he will be awarded with a brand new Chevy Malibu. Vince wants that Chevy. In his mind, he deserves that Chevy. Thus, his mission is set: win employee of the month one more time and all of his wildest dreams will come true. And things are great ... until she shows up.
When the beautiful (and busty) Amy (Jessica Simpson) transfers to their store from another Club Super across town, Zack and Vince immediately fall head over heals for the blonde bombshell. However, since she's a cashier, Vince has the upper-hand and can show Amy the ropes, as well as give her a tour of the cashier's lounge -- a place off limits to someone like Zack, who's just a box boy. After learning a secret about Amy -- that the reason she transferred was because she has a "thing" for employee of the months -- Zack throws on his game face, and goes to war against Vince for that coveted employee of the month spot.
Like with most commercial comedies these days, Employee of the Month borrows heavily from other successful films (Office Space, The 40 Year-Old Virgin, Napoleon Dynamite, Empire Records) in an attempt to pass off old shtick as fresh, hilarious material. This new trend in Hollywood is bothersome, unless you don't mind seeing the same flick over and over again, just with a new setting and, occasionally, a different cast. For example, Vince's sidekick, Jorge (Efren Ramirez), idolizes the man, and does all he can to emulate Vince's hard work and dedication to his job. Yet, with his broken English and familiar "poor shlub" persona, the role is nothing but an extension of Ramirez's character in Napoleon Dynamite. Only this time, the jokes aren't as subtle and Jorge is a bit more Americanized. While their relationship is great and, frankly, holds the film together, it's hard to distinguish whether you're laughing because these characters are funny or because they remind you of the peculiar partnership between Napoleon and Pedro. Or both.
And speaking of partnerships, Zack has a few buddies of his own. There's Lon (Andy Dick), whose poor vision throws a wrench in his work at the eye glass counter. Russell (Harland Williams) is a fellow box boy and your typical guys guy -- large, tough and full of dating advice. Last but not least is Iqbal (Brian George), the lovable nice-guy foreigner who is somewhat like the character he played in 40 Year-Old Virgin, but with less cursing. At first, the boys all band together to help Zack defeat Vince and win the girl, though as their friend slowly loses himself in the task at hand and starts neglecting his friends, their opinion of Zack soon changes. It's a plot device that lacks so much originality, we spot it coming from a mile away.
Which brings me to the darling Jessica Simpson who, surprisingly, did not ruin this film all on her own ... though she sure did come close. Screenwriters Don Calame, Chris Conroy and Greg Cooldige (who also directed) were smart to not give Simpson too many lines (seriously, the girl has about five minutes of dialogue throughout the entire film, if that), but in doing so they've created a character who's so stale and boring that when it comes to her relationship with Zack, there's no way we can connect with either one of them. And since the costume designer felt the need to place Simpson in one low-cut shirt after another, the audience spends more time staring at her chest, than they do paying attention to anything she says.
Simpson's breasts aside, Employee of the Month definitely has enough funny moments to keep your eyes away from the watch. Shepard is hysterical as a cashier with a God complex, and the writers do a good job building him up to be some sort of indestructible rock star, complete with a legion of fans who shop just to watch him ring items up in a fancy, flamboyant kind of way, ala Tom Cruise in Cocktail. Tim Bagley shines in the role of Club Super's ditsy manager, Glen Gary -- the kind of guy who constantly forgets people's names, and is deathly afraid of disappointing his older brother, the store's main boss (played by Danny Woodburn of Seinfeld fame). However, as quirky and complex as some of the side characters are, the film's main hero is somewhat of a let down. Quite simply, Cook's unique in-your-face style of comedy is non-existent here, and he's forced into a role that limits his ability to really make us laugh.
One thing Employee of the Month gets right that films like The 40 Year-Old Virgin got wrong is its running time. Clocking in at a manageable hour and forty-three minutes, the flick flies by, mainly because it doesn't spend too much time working the boring romance angle, and instead beefs up the participation of the entire cast. This flick is bound to make you laugh more than once, though words like 'smart,' 'original' and 'breathe of fresh air' will most likely not find their way out of your mouth upon exiting the theater.