Company Man
directed by Peter Askin
& Douglas McGrath
(Paramount, 2000)

So say I'm comedian Douglas McGrath, and I'm gonna try out this pitch for a movie we'll call Company Man:

There's this guy, see, a schoolteacher, whose main passion in life is the proper use of the English language. Well, that and his 800-page treatise on the necessity of good grammar. And he just annoys the heck out of everyone with his long-winded lectures on who versus whom. (Even though I'm a copy editor in my "real job" -- or maybe because of that fact -- this sure doesn't sound like a comedic hit).

So, OK, we'll say this 1950s schoolteacher, Alan Quimp (McGrath), bumbles his way into helping a Russian dancer defect and, in turn, is invited to join the CIA. Say he's sent far, far away from CIA HQ -- like, to pre-Castro Cuba. Say he unearths a CIA mole on his first day on the job.

Say no one can figure out how (or if) this guy has the smarts to do anything. Sounds like a job for Inspector Clouseau. Too bad Peter Sellers died in 1980. So no Clouseau.

Maybe if we surround Quimp with a great cast it won't matter. That'll really tickle the studio bosses' funnybones. Get out your agent's little black book and start calling in the favors. Bring in John Turturro, who acted with McGrath in Quiz Show. Bring in Anthony LaPaglia, with whom he acted in Sweet and Lowdown. Bring in Sigourney Weaver and Heather Matarazzo, Ryan Phillippe and Alan Cumming.

And bring in the Big Gun of neurotic humor, Woody Allen, with whom McGrath wrote Bullets Over Broadway and for whom he acted in Sweet and Lowdown.

Now. The story of the ne'er-do-well agent, the success-in-spite-of-himself CIA operative has to take off, right?

We'll make Quimp friends with both Castro and Batista, and we'll have him personally responsible for triggering not only the CIA's cartoonish schemes to assassinate Castro, but the Big Debacle, the Bay of Pigs. Turturro can play one of those ultra-American CIA guys, really ham it up. And Woody Allen can play -- get this -- the chief CIA man in Cuba, a man who has been banished from Paris to the island as punishment, who bemoans the black beans added to his Camembert, the lack of Chateau Lafitte.

It can't miss!

For about 45 minutes, it doesn't. And then, for the rest of the movie, it just withers away.

There's lots going on, plots and birthday parties and Marilyn Monroe and an angry wife and ... In the middle of all the running around and forced farce, there's a lack of driving force, a dearth of energy.

McGrath's Quimp is part of the problem. He's enough for a skit, but not enough to fill out a main feature. He's a one-note CIA joke, and it wears awfully thin.

Fill out some time with Company Man -- but keep your Pink Panther movies close at hand for backup.

[ by Jen Kopf ]
Rambles: 7 September 2002

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