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With: Douglas McGrath, Sigourney Weaver, John Turturro, Alan Cumming, Anthony LaPaglia, Ryan Phillipe, Heather Matarazzo, Denis Leary, Jeffrey Jones, Ryan Phillippe, Darlene Dahl, Woody Allen
Written by: Douglas McGrath, Peter Askin
Directed by: Douglas McGrath, Peter Askin
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual humor and drug content
Running Time: 86
Date: 05/03/2000

Company Man (2001)

1 Star (out of 4)

Bad 'Company'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In the summer of 1999, a movie called Dick imagined that two teenage girls were responsible for the Nixon Watergate scandal. That clever movie used its idea to the fullest and benefited from a brilliant performance by Dan Hedaya as Nixon. Now comes Company Man, a movie made around the same time as Dick but legally held up until now. Company Man takes similar measures to explain the Bay of Pigs, but fails.

Douglas McGrath, who co-wrote Woody Allen's Bullets Over Broadway (1994) and wrote and directed Emma (1996), now returns as co-writer, co-director, and star. He's a slight fellow with thinning hair and a smarmy smile, like a junior version of Nathan Lane. He plays Allen Quimp, a grammar teacher who worms his way into the CIA by helping a Russian ballet dancer (Ryan Phillippe) to defect. In order to get rid of Quimp, the CIA ships him off to Cuba, where his bunglings eventually cause the Bay of Pigs fiasco.

Company Man somehow attracted a great cast. Sigourney Weaver plays Quimp's nagging wife who decides to write a book about his exploits. John Turturro plays a gun-toting soldier of fortune bent on killing Fidel Castro. Alan Cumming plays the ousted dictator Batista who carries a box around that he stands on to increase his height. Denis Leary plays a crooked CIA agent. Woody Allen appears uncredited as a CIA leader also banished to Cuba for leaving a codebook behind in a Russian brothel. And Anthony LaPaglia plays Castro himself.

I think this cast came on board with the promise of being able to act completely uninhibited and with utter abandon without any pesky directors telling them what to do. McGrath and his co-director Peter Askin offer little restraint and so the actors run wild, playing to the back row. They gesture madly, shout, fall down, and smirk, completely throwing out things like timing, subtlety, and character development. Only Allen comes across well, playing his usual self, mixing superb line delivery with deadpan physical humor. One scene in which he lights a cigarette had me rolling in the aisle.

Sadly, Allen's funny moments comprise only about 2 minutes of film. The rest is hurled at us like a jumbo jet when all that's required is a paper airplane. One scene has Quimp trying to drug Castro with an LSD-laced glass of water. Right out of a 40 year-old screenplay, Castro switches glasses, and Quimp flies off on a drug trip in front of a disbelieving audience. A quick comparison of Hedaya's inspired Nixon and LaPaglia's paper-thin Castro shows how little actual thought went into Company Man. The movie doesn't realize that giving Castro the LSD would have been much funnier, like Nixon eating the pot cookies in Dick.

The so-called jokes and gimmicks seem recycled from the worst of the 1960s: Doris Day domestic comedies, Don Knotts movies, beach flicks, and especially the monstrous It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963). I suppose the point of Company Man was to revive that long-lost goggle-eyed humor. This brings up questions like: Can that era be resurrected, and should it? Barry Levinson's An Everlasting Piece and Francis Veber's The Dinner Game tried to do the same thing a couple of months ago with equally disastrous results. But three strikes don't mean that we shouldn't try again. I believe there is room for old-fashioned un-subtle comedy, like Dick and maybe the Austin Powers movies. But if, like Company Man, the movie does nothing but hammer at us for 90 minutes in a void, that can be a dreary experience indeed.

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