All films have to establish some means to connect with the audience. While vital for all types of movies but with comedies it is important in order to provide a common ground for the humor to work. One traditional means to affect this is to address the comic material to the current economic environment. This holds especially strongly when the economy is in the dumpster. During the Great Depression Charlie Chaplin created a lovable character, the ‘Little Tramp’. With his rectangular mustache, bowler hat and flimsy cane he waddled his way into the hearts of the world making him the first multimillion dollar ‘A’-list movie star. Unfortunately such genius is exceptionally rare and did not filter down to the creators of the comedy considered here, ‘Demoted’. In this most recent recession an increasing number of employees are being terminated, or to use the politically polite tern, downsized. If not outright dismissed some find themselves placed in a position of less importance and, more importantly, less pay. The film ‘Demoted’ is a silly flick base on a very serious subject. The underlying theme here is an officious boss and two of his less than competent employees. This theme has been around for a very long time mostly because it reflects a situation frequent found in the real work place. Naturally, this is a liberal use of the satiric plot device referred to as reductio ad absurdum, exaggerating a circumstance or personal characteristic to an extreme for the sake of stressing a point or increasing the humoristic content. This is a tricky technique to use particularly for a screen writer that is relatively new to this profession. What happens in cases as demonstrated here is too much emphasis on the absurd portion of the methodology. This is what afflicts this movie is a fundamental lack of heart. There is no hint of pathos present in the film that would allow the audience to form a realistic emotional connection with the idiotic protagonists. While there is certain a place for completely foolish films, and this movie certain falls into that category, but even with that approach to the flick it still falls short of its potential.
In some ways the social hierarchy manifested in the typical American business office is an extension of what is established in high school. There is a pyramid of status with the elite few on top of the successfully larger levels beneath them. No matter what the details might be life frequently boils down to popularity. This is precisely the circumstances present in the Treadline Tire Company. In this firm the equivalent to the ‘cool kids’ are the salesmen, the employees that generate most of the income for the business. The degree of ‘popularity’ is determined by the amount of sales generated. That places the perennially bullies, Rodney (Michael Vartan) and Mike (Sean Astin) at the top of the pecking order. Their usual target of unending abuse is the cubical resident, Ken Castro (David Cross), who as lived his entire life as the nerd on the receiving ends of every cruel prank possible. Rodney and Mike were more than happy to supply the abuse in regular portions much to the chagrin of the hapless Ken. Then a long standing comic tradition a sudden twist of fate occurs. The boss, Bob Farrell (Robert Klein), unexpectedly dies leaving a vacuum in the management of the company. In a way that can only occur in a story like this the put upon Ken suddenly finds himself in the big office. Revenge may be a dish best served cold but some people they prefer a big steaming hot portion served as soon as possible; Ken was such a person. In short order Rodney and Mike are demoted from the source of their power to secretaries. I want to go on record stating that secretaries are a vital part of any successful firm but here it is used as a punishment. For the sake of the premise here any lower paying position associated with lower prestige would serve the requisite function. This reversal of situations is a popular ploy since most people secretly feel they are better than their undeserving supervisor.
The trouble in this movie is the difficulty getting the audience to form the properly oriented feelings about each of the characters. Strong attachments are generated but to the detriment of the film they are not properly aligned with the designated function of the characters. In order to work as expected the newly promoted boss must be completely inept an undeserving of his unexpected boon. There also should be some redeeming qualities inherent in the ones originally dishing out the unwarranted bullying. They seem to be more adept at playing mean spirited pranks than any perceivable time spent on the pursuit of their job functions. Usually there is some manifestation of cosmic justice being served. It seems more like everybody pretty much gets what they deserve. As nerd as Ken may seem he is a consistent worker and should be a manager. On the other hand although Mike and Rodney do grow a little in respecting the secretarial staff they remain tools throughout the course of the film.
The dynamic achieved the characters and the audience is the reverse of what is required to make the film work as planned. The director, J.B. Rogers, as worked a lot as he second unit director for a lot of juvenile comedies including a number of the much ‘There’s something About Mary’ and the original ‘American Pie’ but he is rather new to being seated in the big chair behind the camera. You can consider this a default popcorn flick on a rainy afternoon but not exactly a date movie by any stretch of imagination.