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Waiting...

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 01/30/06 13:40:07

"Excuse me, miss? I ordered the FUNNY movie. Can you take this back, please?"
1 stars (Sucks)

Writer/director Rob McKittrick wants his film “Waiting…” to be “Clerks” so badly he can taste it. We get the likable schmuck at a crossroads of his life, stuck in a crap job, wiggling through problems with a girlfriend. We get the schmuck’s smartass best friend who provides all the quippy one-liners. We get the problem customers as seen from the employees’ perspectives. And yes, we get two pothead clowns that strain at every chance to sound exactly like Jason Mewes.

The problem, however, is that “Waiting…” is no “Clerks,” not by a long shot. For starters, “Clerks” was funny. More than that, “Clerks” was smart, an oddball look at the dreary routine of minimum wage living; Kevin Smith’s screenplay combined bizarre observations of his convenience store life with absurdist sidetracks, discussions about old relationships and “Star Wars” movies. McKittrick, who’s so inspired by Smith that he thanks him in the closing credits, follows the formula, aiming to deliver what I can assume is an insider’s look into the world of chain restaurants, but he fails. All we get are a handful of obnoxious characters and a series of episodes that aren’t witty observations so much as they are the angry bitchings of a guy fed up with his job.

Consider the mean hag who complains loudly throughout her dinner. McKittrick has nothing to say about this too-common customer stereotype. The character herself does nothing interesting, nothing memorable. She is merely mean in the most generic sense, nothing more than the set-up to a punchline (which involves the staff soiling her meal with spit, dandruff, and pubic hair). McKittrick lost a great chance here to look at these customers from a different angle (an askewed view, if you’ll pardon the lame Smith reference). He could have played up her issues, taken her to bizarre extremes, anything. All we get instead is the cinematic equivalent of having your roommate come home from work, flop down on the couch, and whine: “Dude, this woman was being such a total bitch, so we spit in her gravy. It was awesome!”

Understand that every single customer here is treated the same underdeveloped way and you’ve got a grasp on this film.

It does not help that McKittrick doesn’t have a handle on filmmaking just yet. His visual style here is of the “I don’t really know what I’m doing, so I just hope if I point the camera at the cast long enough, it’ll turn out OK” variety. Which would be forgivable if the script was strong enough to carry us through (again: the visually awful but still delightful “Clerks”), but when your sharpest bit of satire is about how training videos are lame, well, don’t get too comfortable in that director’s chair, pal.

Of all the problems with the writing (aside, that is, from the constant failure of attempted comedy), the biggest is the running gag involving the “show your penis” game. You see, to kill the boredom, the male staffers at this restaurant play this game among themselves in which they trick each other to look at their exposed genitals. If you get conned into looking, the exposer gets to kick you in the ass and call you a homo. Hilarity.

Now, it’s not the homophobic nature of these scenes that irked me (although just because you put in a scene calling the characters homophobic doesn’t excuse yourself from being the same); the homophobia, along with the simple-minded misogyny (McKittrick’s script shows an embarrassing lack of understanding of the female gender - especially the lesbian variety), is just another sign of how dumbed-down the movie gets that it’s more offensive as an insult to intelligence than anything else.

But back, if we must, to the penis game. What ruins this bit is the clumsy, forced way in which McKittrick places this material into the screenplay. I’m guessing that he and his pals played this exact same game at whatever restaurant he worked before making this film, and he and his buddies thought it would be all kick-ass if he put it into his film. But did we need to stop the movie dead cold in its tracks in order to explain the complex rules of this game? Not at all. We could have had one character explain it in one sentence, and we could have picked up the rest on our own. But no, McKittrick is so obsessed with this notion - and so convinced that it’s hilarious - that we must bring everything screeching to a halt in order to go over the finer points of things. It doesn’t fit, and if McKittrick knew anything about storytelling, he’d know that already.

But he doesn’t. And so he relies on such obvious, lazy ideas as the one that has this be the first day on the job for a new waiter, who gets to meet everyone and their kooky deeds, meaning that he gets to be us, and McKittrick doesn’t have to work that hard to make things understandable, since he can simply have someone explain it to the rookie. Lazy.

I have not mentioned the cast yet, and that is because I feel sorry for them. These are some very talented actors: Ryan Reynolds, Justin Long, John Francis Daley, Anna Faris, David Koechner, Luis Guzman, Alanna Ubach, Chi McBride. Even the terminally obnoxious Dane Cook is watchable here. And yet all of them go to waste, reduced to playing simplified versions of former characters (Reynolds is the same smarmy wisecracker he’s played in every movie ever, while Long is the same dopey-but-lovable schnook he’s played in every movie ever, etc., etc.). These actors do the best they can with the material, and every now and then a line reading will help tug a smile out of an awful punchline.

But why should the cast have to do all the work? They should be resting easy on a smart, funny script, adding nuance to already humorous bits. Instead, we have to watch them struggle and squirm just to make each scene not as horrible as the last. It’s a painful sight.

I have mentioned “Clerks,” but “Waiting…” also wishes to be “Office Space” (the restaurant here seems modeled more after Mike Judge’s parody of chain restaurants than after McKitrrick’s own vision), “Car Wash” (in which colorful characters and wild situations got us through the monotony of a day’s work), and “Empire Records” (which was essentially an alterna-hip 90s redux of “Car Wash”). What those films all have that “Waiting…” lacks? Interesting characters. Unique, surprising situations. A sharp eye that looks at the familiar world with comic freshness. Without all of this, McKittrick’s film is nothing but a sad collection of clichés, whining, and dick jokes. Served up cold.

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