During the average day at Shenanigan’s, a popular chain restaurant, the staff goes through hell dealing with customers and management; however, today is special, as new hire Mitch (John Francis Daley, “Freaks and Geeks”) is being trained in to become a server. Led around by smarmy Monty (Ryan Reynolds), Mitch gets an eye full as he meets various wait staff with serious customer service problems (Justin Long, a wasted Anna Faris, Allana Ubach, and Robert Patrick Benedict), a team of cooks who know nothing of hygiene (Luis Guzman and Dane Cook), a 17-year-old Lolita-type hostess (Vanessa Lengies), wannabe gangsta busboys (led by reason number 122,987 not to watch MTV, Andy Milonakis), a philosophical dish washer (Chi McBride), and a lesbian bartender (Emmanuelle Chrique).
When Kevin Smith’s classic slacker comedy “Clerks” debuted in 1994, it unleashed a tidal wave of copycat films, almost all of them made for nothing, and rarely seen. Eleven years later, “Waiting” is probably the first direct rip-off to find a major release, and the last film that should be named in the same breath as Smith’s little indie miracle.
While the foibles of twentysomthings living off sarcasm and minimum wage isn’t exactly fresh ground to work with, “Waiting” also takes aim at those omnipresent TGI Fridays-type of restaurants, and, “Office Space” notwithstanding, it still feels like a fresh target. Writer/director Rob McKittrick clearly has a lot of venom for the restaurant industry, and in the corners and pockets of “Waiting” are some marvelous jabs at rude, unbearable customers (and their low tips), along with an intricate realization of slacker workplace ethics and friendships. McKittrick, himself a vet of the chain restaurant business, may not have as strong a voice as Kevin Smith, but his hostility and honesty does manage to sporadically find its way up on the screen, and the film is better for it.
So why is the rest of “Waiting” an excess of unfunny lowbrow jokes and gross-out set piecesr McKittrick clearly lost his nerve writing a straight satire, and decided that junk sells quicker, so he packed the film with seethingly uninspired material, handed to some great actors who should know better. At last answering the eternal question if restaurant employees abuse returned food, shown here with an abundance of sickening visuals that give the “American Pie” films a run for their money, “Waiting” is never one to let a tasteless gag get past it. McKittrick tries to offset the nonsense with a “heartfelt” plot thread that has depressed server Dean (Justin Long) questioning his future at the restaurant, but that subplot only gets in the way of a running gag that has the crew engaging in a game where if you are caught glimpsing someone’s exposed genitals, you receive a kick in the rear. And yes, you don’t have to ask, McKittrick makes sure you get to see those exposed sex organs too.
How McKittrick talked this cast into appearing in this exercise in mediocrity, I will never understand, but he did manage to hire people who add considerable flair to the film, without much help from the director. Ryan Reynolds is the lead here, and if anyone needed another reason to support this superb comic actor, “Waiting” would be it. Finding himself in another “no win” situation, like the one he faced in “Van Wilder, ” Reynolds always takes the opportunity to add his own hot sauce to the dialog. You can see in his eyes that Reynolds is aware that this is another comedic Titanic, but he never fails, and his brave character choice to have Monty a slave to the allure of underage girls is uniquely hilarious. Good work also comes from Justin Long and Shenanigan’s manager David Koechner (who loves to bust people using his parking lot for other means), who seem to be the only other two capable of getting a laugh.
And sorry Dane Cook freaks, the popular stand-up comedian only makes a couple of brief appearances in “Waiting,” which I’m sure the producers are kicking themselves about right now.
Looking like a high school drama project made for a couple of twenties over a long weekend, “Waiting” is labored and rarely funny. McKittrick really lucked into his cast, and he wastes their potential routinely in pursuit of dated comedy stylings that have long sense gone out of vogue. “Waiting” had potential, but without an actual filmmaker behind it, it just falls apart.Rating: D