There is an Adam Green song that begins, “Jessica Simpson, where has your love gone? It’s not in your music, no.” Apparently, Simpson’s love is not in her acting either.
In “Employee of the Month,” Jessica Simpson’s only intrigue is her bad dye job, with brunette roots that seem to expand and contract by the second. But maybe, instead, the appeal of this film was supposed to be Dane Cook, comedian of the masses, whose voice has pumped out of every teenage boy’s suburban pick-up truck for the past few years. If that’s the case, what is Cook — who, in one of his stand-up skits, inquires, “Am I the only person here that loves to watch a couple together that hates each other’s guts?” — doing in a romantic comedy?
It would be funnier if Cook’s role in the film were simply making fun of Simpson, who has made a career out of setting herself up for ridicule. In “Employee of the Month,” however, Cook does little but drool over his questionably blonde romantic interest. When Simpson first walks into the Super Club — a Costco-style bulk supply store where Cook works as a box boy — he pants, “Now that’s art.” Simpson is art in the same sense that this movie is art. That is, if art means insipid and aggravating. It’s a shame that anyone has to pay for painful dialogue, weak jokes, mild racism and an occasional fart joke when all of these things are free and readily available at any frat party.
“Employee of the Month” is about Zack, played smugly by Cook, a (supposedly) lovable worker at the bottom of the Super Club hierarchy who coasts through life on his Heelys roller sneakers and is seemingly content with his lot. That is, until a hot checkout girl, Amy (Simpson), joins the Super Club team. Zack becomes convinced that if he wins the title of Employee of the Month, she will sleep with him. But Simpson’s open-mouthed, confused countenance — which does not show any sign of shifting emotion or susceptibility to persuasion — suggests Zack could have just wined and dined his way into Amy’s heart (and pants) and avoided all the hard work.
This movie is reminiscent of 2002’s “The Good Girl,” except in this case, the female lead has better-fitting pants and doesn’t recognize just how bleak her financial and romantic possibilities are as a discount store clerk. Simpson is a sluttier version of Jennifer Aniston, who blinks just as infrequently and has an equally awkward accent. Too bad Simpson’s hillbilly accent is real (unless she is actually a Stepford-style robot, which is also possible).
The good/bad news is that the camera doesn’t stay permanently focused on Simpson’s cleavage. She does have a line or two — depending on how you define a line — that require the camera to tilt for a moment up to her dazed face. She even provides a fleeting moment of comic relief when she pulls back her hair to expose huge ears, which she gawkily declares are “not bionic.” To give away too much about Simpson’s inhumanly large prosthetic ears, however, would be to rob potential viewers of all the fun that can be derived from this cinematic disaster.
The actor Efren Ramirez, who played Pedro in Napoleon Dynamite, returns to the silver screen for another deadpan supporting role in this film (except this time, to break down all ethnic stereotypes, this kowtowing Mexican is named Jorge, a name that Dane Cook oh-so-wittily pronounces “Whore-Gay”). Then there is also the slightly disturbing theme of racial minorities who break rules and do favors in exchange for candy bars bestowed by the white stars of the film. Lily, the overweight Asian paper-pusher, and Semi, the obese black security guard, will do pretty much anything for Cook and his Butterfinger-toting cohorts.
But, when all is said and done, this is an inspirational movie. Zack decides to become Employee of the Month, not for sex, not for revenge, but, as he declares: “I’m gonna do it for myself, for pride.” This uplifting affirmation should echo in your mind, as well, when you make that split second decision at the ticket counter to see, well, anything but “Employee of the Month.”