Movie Review: The Promotion
By Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune Movie Critic
Week after week movies come and go, and too many sound and look as if they were written by committee, or a robot, or one of the aliens in "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." ("Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" is one of the movies I'm talking about.)
Then there's screenwriter Steve Conrad. He's interesting. He likes his protagonists to suffer a little en route to finding a better place, and not in the usual sitcomic ways. The Chicago resident writes distinctive dialogue - tart, off-kilter, full of odd little details - and you could hear his skill in his script for "The Weather Man" (2005), which starred Nicolas Cage as a sad-sack Chicago broadcaster whose life keeps throwing him curveballs.
You could hear it, too, in the more conventional true-life tale "The Pursuit of Happyness" (2006), which Conrad worked on, and which grossed 15 times what "The Weather Man" made, owing to Will Smith and a truly happy ending. Conrad can write a truly happy ending, but his preferred storytelling mode is the qualified happy ending. Either way, he wants his subjects to earn it.
In "The Promotion," Conrad makes his feature film directorial debut. The script is his, narrated by Doug, a mid-level Chicago supermarket employee played by Seann William Scott. His future as manager of a new store is threatened by the new guy down from Canada. His name's Richard, and besides being an ex-motorcycle gang rider and a recovering alcoholic, he has an indeterminate degree of career ambition.
John C. Reilly plays this role right down the middle, which is where you want it. One of the chief virtues of this modest, eccentric comedy is Conrad's refusal to make the Canadian interloper with the Scottish wife (Lili Taylor, always a pleasure) an easily pegged antagonist. If the film disappoints, it's because Conrad doesn't do much to vary and amplify the competitive gamesmanship of the would-be managers. The wives are defined entirely through their support of their spouses. (Jenna Fischer plays Doug's wife.) And while "The Weather Man" had a sharp take-it-or-leave-it edge, "The Promotion" feels a bit softer, and narrower in scope. Yet when you see Reilly and Taylor taking salsa lessons to ease their relational pain, the way Cage took up archery in "The Weather Man," you know that Conrad's trying to find new ways to dramatize (comically) familiar frustrations. "The Promotion" may not be much, and you get to know that supermarket uncomfortably well by the end of the 85 minutes. But as I say: He's an interesting writer.
MPAA rating: R (for language including sexual references, and some drug use).
Running time: 1:25
Starring: Seann William Scott (Doug); John C. Reilly (Richard); Jenna Fischer (Jen); Lili Taylor (Laurie); Bobby Cannavale (Dr. Mark Timms).
Written and directed by Steve Conrad; photographed by Lawrence Sher; edited by Tim Streeto and Myron Kerstein; music by Alex Wurman; production design by Martin Whist; produced by Jessika Borsiczky Goyer and Steven A. Jones. A Weinstein Company release.