The Promotion



South by Southwest

"The Promotion" must be one of the unfunniest comedies ever. Punch lines are lifeless. Characters are borderline catatonic. Running gags can't even walk. And what's with all that dead air as characters gaze at one another with perplexed expressions on their faces? Add watching "The Promotion" to the Geneva Conventions' list of humanitarian abuses. Suffice it to say, "Promotion" will get promoted by theater chains to DVD shelves in a sudden hurry.

The directorial debut of Steve Conrad, the writer of "The Pursuit of Happyness," "Promotion" revolves around a competition between two mentally challenged Chicago supermarket employees to become manager of a new store location. That this new store is an empty lot at the moment makes this "heated" competition a bit odd, but it joins a list of oddities.

Why, for instance, would either of these employees ever be considered? Doug (Seann William Scott) has poor social skills, lies to everyone, hides customer evaluation cards and has anger management issues. Richard (John C. Reilly), the "new guy from Canada" -- which is said quite frequently as if by way of explanation -- is a recovering alcoholic who smokes dope, blurts out politically incorrect comments, and he too has anger management issues. Neither one can manage his own life despite patient if not saintly wives (Jenna Fischer, Lili Taylor).

The movie has the board of directors of this supermarket chain virtually camp in the store where Doug and Richard work as they watch these two guys perform with spectacular dullness. The board tends to pop up at just the moment someone does something inappropriate.

Conrad's direction is utterly flatfooted. The actors all look extremely uncomfortable. Dialogue is delivered with an unnerving lack of energy. Even the locations are dreary. A corporate retreat where employees run barefoot down a burning path and put paper bags on their heads is another comic lowlight.

Reilly does manage a credible eastern Canadian accent. That is the film's singular achievement.

Dimension Films
Screenwriter-director: Steve Conrad
Producers: Jessika Borsiczky Goyer, Steven Jones
Executive producers: Harvey Weinstein, Bob Weinstein
Director of photography: Lawrence Sher
Production designer: Martin Whist
Music: Alex Wurman
Costume designer: Susan Kaufmann
Editor: Tim Streeto
Doug: Seann William Scott
Richard: John C. Reilly
Jen: Jenna Fischer
Laurie: Lili Taylor
Scott: Fred Armisen
Board Exec: Gil Bellows
Dr. Timm: Bobby Cannavale
Ernesto: Rick Gonzalez
Running time -- 85 minutes
No MPAA rating