Employee of the Month

I like Dane Cook, but it will very hard to get excited about his comedy after watching this trainwreck. A comedy cast with people who know nothing about getting laughs, “Employee of the Month” is painful and obscenely tiresome.

Zack (Dane Cook) is the slacker king of Super Club, a popular warehouse store he works at with his buddies (Andy Dick and Harland Williams). Forced to watch pompous cashier Vince (Dax Shepard) continue his run as the most celebrated employee in the store, Zack is powerless to stop him; but when a new employee, Amy (Jessica Simpson), transfers in and shows a preference for motivated clerks, Zack sheds his laziness and begins to improve his effort around the store, kicking off war with Vince for the employee of the month award.

There once was a time not too long ago when Dane Cook was a luminous comedic talent. With “Employee of the Month,” it looks like that era is over.

“Employee” is Cook’s big starring debut. A wildly popular stand-up comic, Cook has defined himself through his high energy performances and goofy observational indulgences. He’s not the wittiest or most original talent around, but his cherry bomb comedy routines have a level of spirit to them that is lacking in his peers. Until recently, it appeared that Cook was a genuinely funny guy ready for his time in the spotlight.

So thank heavens “Employee” completely muzzles him and shoves Cook into the sad sack role of a romantic lead. It’s like asking Mr. T to whisper.

“Employee” is simply a brutal comedy, insulting in so many ways, and disappointing in others. It’s a pathetic PG-13 matinee diversion for teens that could’ve been so much more if the production had the guts to try for comedy gold. There should be a law against softball, unbearably lazy comedies like this.

Director Greg Coolidge is making his feature film debut with “Employee,” so the last thing he’s going to do is put a distinct stamp on the proceedings. He’s at that mercy of a script that doesn’t go anywhere interesting with warehouse-store laughs (yep, people buy hair gel by the literal bucket load, we get it), and a cast list like this. As “Employee” plays out, I began to feel sorry for Coolidge. How can anyone expect to make even a remotely humorous film with Dax Shepard, Efren Ramirez, Andy Dick, and Jessica Simpson as your powerhouse of comedy?

With Cook effectively neutered by his odd straight-man role, the rest of the troupe embarrasses themselves trying to pick up the slack. The worst offender is Shepard, who pitches his performance to a level more suited for a yawn-drenched high school talent show than a big screen comedy. He’s teamed up with Ramirez, as Vince’s toady Jorge, who nearly ties his “Napoleon Dynamite” co-star Jon Heder for the most useless performer working today award. The two are given an obscene amount of time to improv and pratfall; it kills the soul when dreadful actors think they’re comedy giants.

As for Jessica Simpson, she provides the cleavage and the mile-long blonde hair with ease, but adds little else to the mix. I should be thankful they kept her as quiet as they could.

Somehow, the screenwriters got it in their poison pens to include a semi-dramatic third act to this insufferable monkey business. As Zack climbs the chain of responsibility, he leaves his slacker buds behind, leading to dramatic piano tinkling on the soundtrack and the insinuation that the audience actually cares what happens to these nimrods. This is where “Employee” launches the idea that it should take itself seriously; if you’re waiting for a time to bolt, this is it.

Rating: F