by Greg Muskewitz
"Company Man" is much more successful of being an out-and-out satire of spy-type movies in general, in just 81-minutes, than "15 Minutes" is at trying to be an aware commentary in all of its 100-minutes. The general silliness of it seems like an easy target to miss or overdo, but co-writers and co-director Douglas McGrath and Peter Askin make this light entertainment a sweet coating on the way down.Our company man, or soon-to-be-so, is Allen Quimp (McGrath), that lovable/obnoxious, overly-enthusiastic teacher of whatever subject (English in this case), that most other people cannot be nearly as vehement about. Quimp, in this instance, is very similar to the enthusiasticness of Matthew Broderick's Mr. McAllister in the darker, but equivalently funny "Election," with even a dash of Reese Witherspoon's Tracy Flick-type of naïveté. He becomes concerned in the CIA's affairs when he helps a Russian dancer (Ryan Phillippe) defect from the Soviet Union --obviously set during the early Sixties. (The actual scene of defection is quite hilarious, where Quimp takes the dancer along for one of his student's driving lessons, Phillippe shouts, "I want to defecate," only to be told that when riding with a new driver, "A lot of people want to do that at first." "No, no," he shouts back in frustration, "I mean defect!")
"...there is plenty of merit in the joint-venture..."
The CIA ships him off to Cuba, giving him the impression that he is there to help, but really just trying to keep him out of the way. Within the first five-minutes or so after his arrival, he has already cracked the case of who "Agent X" is. (Without reveal who, or what the circumstances are, it is suffice to say that it is perpetually building in juxtaposition to the dancer's defection.) Happy to be away from his brass and pushy wife (Sigourney Weaver), it can only be too good to be true until she shows up to get the first-hand scoop for her book. Not long after, Quimp is accosted by guerrilla CIA agent Johnson (John Turturro) who is protecting the overturned dictator, General Batista (Alan Cumming) and try to rid of the new public face, Fidel Castro (Anthony LaPaglia). Much off-the-wall yet still warranted and well-lampooned humor follows.
Part of the auspicious enjoyment comes from the unexpected humor; the structure and fashion in which McGrath and Askin present us with it in. From the immediate start, there is an air of silliness and campiness to it, and "Company Man" never tries to disavowal that attitude like the CIA attempts to do with Quimp. But just because the presentation of the humor doesn't deviate in delivery, the joviality of the humor, the carelessness but still erudition of the humor, prevents you and the movie from falling into a habituation. It is fresh, it is amusing and in a smart-slapstick framework, the movie is broadly palatable.
Next to the cleverness of the script, methodology and terse, witty dialogue, the next huge strength of "Company Man" is in the quirky and majorly appealing performances of all of the actors. Whether it be in the minor support, like Phillippe or Heather Matarazzo, Denis Leary, or the more encompassing roles of McGrath, Weaver, Turturro, LaPaglia (so much better off from his awfully miscast role in "The House of Mirth") and a healthy-sized and extremely fun performance by Woody Allen, in a wonderfully concocted Allen-like role, but without some of his vexing mannerisms, the film has strong talent and doesn't try to subsidized or hump it. The characters readily emanate a sitcom-like personality, one easily adaptable to, and it seems that a weekly 30-minute derivative of future escapades (or those briefly touched upon), wouldn't or shouldn't be far off --it would probably be warmly accepted.
The attitude of "Company Man" was already in the aforementioned lineage of "Election" in more than just one way, but another movie that this recalls in a parody-esque-ish manner is "Dick." "Company Man" spoofs and satirizes with precisely the right touches whereas "Dick," full of potential, went for the quick and more accessible gags and jokes, and therefore ran itself up a tree before to long. "Company Man" doesn't run into any such trouble, with maybe the minor exception of being a little excessive with Weaver's character near the end. But all-in-all, as out-and-out as this played it up to be, this romp is as enjoyable and unconventional as Quimp's own!
The situations are imaginatively and uniquely construed and conveyed, and the movie takes advantage of its general unlikeliness to comedies of this sort. The collaboration of McGrath and Askin is rewarding and their style and approach to the material, in the old-fashioned teamwork matter of vein, is positively noticeable. Obviously there is plenty of merit in their joint-venture, and if this is how they divvy it up and mesh the corroboration, it is something worth investing in, in their future endeavors.Final Verdict: B+.
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originally posted: 03/10/01 07:39:46