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Pity the male corporate culture

An aimless workplace satire, 'Rick' winds up making us sympathize with the smarmy title character.

October 08, 2004|Carina Chocano | Times Staff Writer

Rick (Bill Pullman), the title character of director Curtiss Clayton's "Rick," works at the Image Corp., a consulting firm of nebulous purpose that nonetheless takes as its energetic motto the gung-ho yuppie platitude "We can do this."

If not a lot of work seems to get done in its wood-paneled, portrait-lined halls, it's because the company really only exists to give Rick and his contemptible boy-boss, Duke (Aaron Stanford), a place to call office. For them, that's a place to belittle employees and engage in the kind of macho jocularity you swear will end in blows. It's a place where they can be themselves, basically.

A directionless, nonspecific swipe at male corporate culture, "Rick" was written by the novelist Daniel Handler long before he became the well-known children's author Lemony Snicket. Before hitting the big time, Handler occasionally toiled as a temp. From the looks of "Rick," the experience was unpleasant.

"Rick" borrows its plot from the opera "Rigoletto" and its vitriol from the bottomless misery of unhappy office underlings everywhere. An ill-advised combination of tragedy and satire, it generally plays like the coffee-break fantasy of a temp who messed up a lunch order and paid for it with his dignity.

Rick O'Lette is scheduled to interview a prospective assistant one morning, and he instructs the receptionist to tell her to wait outside. Instead, Michelle (Sandra Oh) knocks on the door -- all the excuse Rick needs to send her on her way.

Later, he and Duke, half Rick's age and twice as loathsome, go to a club where Michelle happens to work as a cocktail waitress. When this second poisonous encounter gets her fired, she lays a curse on him.

Next thing he knows, he can't even hail a cab. Before he leaves, though, Rick runs into an old classmate who's been watching him bitterly kiss up to Duke. Like all the men in the movie -- unconvincing corporate cartoon villains in the LaBute / Mamet mold -- Buck (Dylan Baker) is slick, sleazy and monosyllabically named. He's in the business of eliminating the competition, literally, and offers his services. When Rick learns that his teenage daughter, Eve (Agnes Bruckner), has been carrying on a chat-room flirtation with his very own "BigBoss," he decides to engage Buck's services.

In the meantime, we learn that Rick's wife, Eve's mother, was murdered, and that both of them are having a tough time coping. This, needless to say, is the equivalent of "Rick" eviscerating itself. For a true satire of corporate culture, you'd do far better re-renting the criminally under-appreciated "Office Space," which got the soul-killing details dead right. "Rick," on the other hand, feels like it was written by an oddball artist-temp type with an ax to grind -- which, as it happens, it was. By the end, we feel more pity for the object of our contempt than relief at his comeuppance. And this, needless to say, is no way for a satire to behave.



MPAA rating: R

Times guidelines: Sexual situations, mostly suggested, thoroughly disturbing kind.

Bill Pullman...Rick

Aaron Stanford...Duke

Agnes Bruckner...Eve

Sandra Oh...Michelle

Dylan Baker...Buck

ContentFilm presents "Rick." Directed by Curtiss Clayton. Written by Daniel Handler. Produced by Ruth Charny, Jim Czarnecki, Sofia Sondervan. Executive producers Edward R. Pressman, John Schmidt. Line producer Allen Bain. Director of photography Lisa Rinzler. Costume designer Alysia Raycraft. Set decorator Heather Loeffler. Editor Curtiss Clayton. Music by Ted Reichman

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