The Promotion DVD: Review By Brian Gallagher

It embraces and celebrates the plight of the average American in a way that few films can and in a way that anyone can identify with.
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  • Replay Value
A wonderfully unconventional film with loads of dry humor, a unique story and some wonderful performances by Seann William Scott, John C. Reilly and writer/director Steve Conrad.
The movie does start out pretty slow and it will take you a little while to get into it and some of the jokes are flat. Not many, though.
If I was writer-director Steve Conrad, I'd be pretty pissed at the marketing for his feature directorial debut, The Promotion. It really pigeonholed the flick as another screwball comedy with two screwball comedy actors in Seann William Scott and John C. Reilly. They even play into the hype on the DVD packaging. "Fists fly in this no-holds barred battle as each man one-ups each other while their mortified wives and co-workers look on.' Umm yeah. Not NEARLY the case here. Wives aren't mortified. Fists don't (really) fly. The problem is: it's not a screwball comedy, more dry humor than anything, and it's a lot smarter than they make it out to be, which leads me to believe it was too smart for the marketing people who had no idea what to do with this wonderful movie.

While I'm not terribly familiar with Steve Conrad's work, I did see his last offering, The Pursuit of Happyness and after watching this, I've learned two things. One is that he LOVES the voice-over in his films, perhaps more than any other writer in Hollywood. The other is that his work is quite bizarre, in a mainstream way, and, especially here, his writing is very intelligent, in not-so-mainstream ways. I remember seeing one of the posters for the film with Scott slamming Reilly's head in a copying machine and everything about this is pretty misleading because it leads us to believe it's some zany office comedy (with a little subtle hint that The Office's Jenna Fischer co-stars as Scott's wife), when it's really a very subtle, very dry and very smart little flick.

The movie's premise is simple enough, though. Doug Stauber (Scott) is just your average Joe. He is the assistant manager at a grocery store called Donaldson's and he seems to be pretty content with life as a grocery store assistant manager. He has a lovely wife, Jen (Jenna Fischer) and all he wants to do is to make enough money to move out of their odd apartment with the paper-thin walls and annoying neighbor who plays the banjo at all hours of the night. The opportunity to do just that presents itself when he learns that Donaldson's is building a new store and Doug is a "shoo-in" to be the full manager of this new store. The couple gets excited and even starts looking at houses they want to buy since this job is, you know, a "shoo-in." The thing gets messy, though, when Richard Wehlner (Reilly) transfers to Stauber's store as another assistant manager from Donaldson's sister company in Canada... and he wants the new manager job too. What follows is a rather brilliant portrait of one-upmanship, performed by two guys who are hardly brilliant.

I have to be honest, though, in that it did take me awhile to really get into this flick because it does start out pretty slow. Once you see it all you'll realize how necessary it is, but for the first half-hour or so, there might be the temptation to just move on to the next flick in your Netflix queue. We aren't introduced to Reilly's character at this point and the glut of Stauber's voice-over gets rather annoying and it seems like a one-sided show. What really makes this work, though, is the subtleties and nuances of Conrad's writing, giving us this battle of wits carried out by the semi-witless. Conrad doesn't come straight out and tell us these guys are just plain nimrods, but he drops plenty of well-placed little tidbits of buffoonery from Scott and Reilly, like a rash of grammatical speaking errors when Stauber has to make a speech to some black community leaders after a hilarious fiasco and Wehlner's hilariously-moronic attempt at a cover-up when he makes a racial slip after that event. He also makes a fool out of himself during an exercise during a company retreat.

I can see why a lot of people will think this is boring, though. There are some really hilarious parts, but there isn't a ton of conventional humor, most of it being martini-dry, and this isn't a very "exciting" movie all-around. When Stauber and Wehlner are "feuding" the things they try to do to raise the stakes are equal to their intelligence levels and, therefore, not entirely riveting, but usually amusing. What makes this so great, though, is Conrad's overall examination of the modern-day average Joe and his refusing to pander to the Hollywood standards to have it more sexy, more dangerous, more funny, more everything, to get his point across. In fact, he makes his point even clearer in the minimalistic way he makes this film, paralleling the lives of these average Joes with the way he chooses to make this film, which is less exciting for the viewer, perhaps, but much more accurate and honest about his characters and the world they inhabit. These characters might not be the most entertaining to watch, but they're some of the most authentic characters I've come across in quite some time.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying this film is a total bore to watch, because it just plain isn't. Seann William Scott and John C. Reilly are just terrific together and they are quite a treat to watch. I'm sure those who are expecting outlandish characters from these comedic actors' past will feel rather let down by this film, because this isn't that sort of film, by any means. However, it is probably Scott's best performance to date, showing he has the chops to not just play the super-zany guy all the time. I really enjoyed his performance and I really hope my high-school classmate (seriously... I have the yearbook pics to prove it) gets more unique and challenging roles in the future because of his performance here. While we don't get a lot from Jenna Fischer here, and even less from Lili Taylor as Reilly's Scotish wife (I'm not sure why they made her Scotish either...), they do just fine here and we get a nice selection of cameos here as well from the likes of Jason Bateman, who's pitch-perfect as an over-eager team-building leader for the company retreat, Bobby Canavale in a slightly-more-than-cameo turn as a doctor at Jen's hospital, Masi Oka as a realtor and a very bizarre performance from Steve Conrad's brother, Chris Conrad, as an unintelligible man who keeps slapping Scott, literally, about some confusion over Teddy Grahams.

The Promotion is one hell of a unique comedy. It's almost an unexaggerated version of Idiocracy, with a bit of The Station Agent as well. Unlike Idiocracy, though, it doesn't damn these characters for their average ways, it embraces and celebrates the plight of the average American in a way that few films can and in a way that anyone can identify with. It's really a tale of two average guys, written, directed and acted in an outstandingly above-average way.
We get started off here with six Deleted Scenes and about half of them are good and only reinforce what I was saying in the review, but the other half are just very small fragments of scenes that didn't need to be there. Some of them should have been in the movie, though, I thought. It was only 86 minutes anyway, so I doubt they were running long at any point...

Making The Promotion is a nice little featurette with interview snippets from the main players in the film, Seann William Scott, John C. Reilly, Jenna Fischer, Lili Taylor, writer-director Steve Conrad and more. We get some really great stuff from Conrad about a real-life experience he saw in a real grocery store with a kid employee who confronted a gang at his store. You get a really good feel for how involved and passionate everyone who made this film was about the project and I really loved all the bits with writer-director Steve Conrad because it just shows how unique of a filmmaker he really is through those segments. This featurette runs just over 18 minutes, but if you loved this film as much as I did, you'll love this as well.

The Promotion Webisodes is a collection of five interesting promotional webisodes that, I guess, were shown on the official site or something. One has an actual recorded call between Seann William Scott and Steve Conrad where Scott wants to do an accent from the movie, another features an extended look at this hilarious small bit in the movie about child brakes for shopping carts, another one where we see the car "provided" by the studio for the Chicago press day: a Smart Car that five of the cast and crew fit in. The last two feature Scott with a Seguay going through the streets of Chicago and a hilarious montage of John C. Reilly's character. These are only about a minute or so long, maybe two minutes max, but they're hilarious.

The last thing we get here, besides the Theatrical Trailer, is Outtakes and most of these are this one scene with Bobby Canavale who keeps laughing at Scott for no particular reason when he tries to describe a cleft palate.
The film is presented in the letterbox widescreen format, enhanced for widescreen televisions.
The sound is handled through the Dolby Digital format.
I usually don't rag on this stuff too much, but when they just plain get it wrong, I have to say something. The front cover gives us the whole office vibe, with a shot of Scott and Reilly staring at each other, with Fischer and Taylor behind them in the background. OK, I'm sure their argument that it's not misleading is that the guys are wearing the same suits they wear to their interviews with the "board" of the grocery store. Still, they work at a grocery store and aren't in suits all the time. There is a nice critic quote at the bottom though. On the back there is another nice critic quote, a terribly misleading synopsis, except for the other critic quotes, some random, smaller images, a special features listing and the billing block and tech specs. I really wished they hadn't tried to market this as a mainstream, marketable comedy, because it isn't, and that's what I love about it.
The Promotion is a film that didn't come close to finding its audience in the theaters (less than $1 million domestic gross) despite all this star-power. It's really a shame, too, because this is one of the smartest and most honest films to come out this year. It won't wow you with the gimmickry and gadgetry or even conventional comedy. It's a film you really need to take a deep look at if you're sick of the Hollywood bulls&%*t and want to see something earnest, engaging and hilarious, because The Promotion has it all in spades... in a delightfully unconventional manner.

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