Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
As Mad Libs are to kids learning profanity, so are comment cards to enraged consumers — open forums for the vilest phrases imaginable.
In 2008’s The Promotion, such rarely constructive cards constitute critical performance evaluation for grocery-store employee Doug (Seann William Scott), mattering more than on-the-job observations.
Like the portable bone-density scanners Will Smith schlepped in Steve Conrad’s The Pursuit of Happyness script, the cards become inanimate characters, given weight and life in impeccable voiceovers.
A bit Alexander Payne social satire, a bit Mike Judge’s Office Space, The Promotion comically chronicles a competition between Doug and Canadian import Richard (John C. Reilly) to manage a new location.
Writer-director Conrad keeps the laughter mostly low-key, all while addressing deflating truths about occupational angst — his sturdy thematic stock-in-trade. Too much is invested in intangibles when evaluating an employee’s workplace worth, not enough in ethics, ingenuity and potential.
This keeps The Promotion from a mere tradeoff of vengeful gestures between Doug and Richard, both likable for different reasons and carefully kept on equal moral footing. Scott’s always more interesting as a good-hearted milquetoast than as a skirt chaser, and Reilly’s downturned, doughy smile speaks volumes about Richard’s defeatist attitude.
Many people fantasize about living beyond their current means; it fuels lotteries and horse races. Ultimately, The Promotion suggests dignity, generosity and respect are as important to life as to customer service, and Richard’s salutation smartly echoes Reilly’s Magnolia monologue: “We’re all out here trying to get some food. Sometimes, we bump into each other.”