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We're still 'Waiting ...' for the punch line

October 07, 2005|Kevin Crust | Times Staff Writer

Working food service should be mandatory for all citizens, like jury duty or paying taxes. It teaches young people humility and demonstrates humanity at its worst, making most subsequent jobs seem easy by comparison. Staying at such jobs for too long, however, can lead to burnout, lack of self-worth and arrested adolescence.

An insightful behind-the-scenes comedy could probably be made about a group of twentysomethings, at the beginning of their journey toward lives of quiet desperation, working at a generic, interstate-adjacent chain restaurant -- say one that specializes in fajitas, overcooked chicken and baby-back ribs.

"Waiting ..." is not that movie. Writer-director Rob McKittrick instead parlays his six-year career working as a waiter at such establishments throughout Florida into an uninspired ensemble sex comedy about the staff of the fictive ShenaniganZ, whose main diversion is "The Game," a competition in which a player attempts to surreptitiously induce co-workers into looking at his genitals. The successful player then ridicules his victims for being latent homosexuals and gives them a certain number of kicks in the rear based on the degree of difficulty of his subterfuge.

McKittrick runs his cast -- headlined by Ryan Reynolds and Anna Faris -- through a predictable and overly familiar menu of food- and sex-related gags and gross-out jokes. Presumably, McKittrick based his characters on people he worked with, but in translating them to the screen he's stripped them of any detail that might have made them memorable. The characters in "Waiting ..." seem like composites, cobbled together from other movies and TV shows than from life.

Justin Long plays Dean, the ostensible protagonist, who suddenly awakens to the fact that he's on the fast track to loserville when he's offered an assistant manager's position at the restaurant. Reynolds, Faris, Kaitlin Doubleday, Alanna Ubach and Robert Patrick Benedict round out the wait staff as they trade quips and put-downs while flashing each other over a relatively routine 24-hour period. Luis Guzman as a libidinous cook and Chi McBride as a philosopher-dishwasher are wasted in supporting roles.

Little ingenuity goes into the many ways the staff defiles the food of rude customers, and none of it will shock anyone who's seen a hidden-camera expose of restaurants on the local news.

Even seven years ago, when McKittrick and his script began a gantlet of development purgatory and distributor buyouts, the ideas presented here -- including hip-hop-obsessed white busboys -- must have seemed tired.

Considering the usual industry machinations, McKittrick is fortunate his vision made it to the screen intact, but this is one instance where some rewrites would have been justified. The filmmaker captures a certain exaggerated verisimilitude, but the comedy is surprisingly flat. The cast sells the occasional one-liner, but a Reynolds smirk can take you only so far.


'Waiting ...'

MPAA rating: R for strong crude and sexual humor, pervasive language and some drug use

Times guidelines: Flashes of frontal nudity

A Lions Gate Films release. Writer-director Rob McKittrick. Producers Adam Rosenfelt, Stavros Merjos, Jay Rifkin, Jeff Balis, Rob Green. Director of photography Matthew Irving. Editors David Finfer, Andy Blumenthal. Production design Devorah Herbert. Costume design Jillian Kreiner. Music Adam Gorgoni. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.

In general release

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