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CORPORATE ANIMALS (2019) review

September 20, 2019

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written by: Sam Bain
produced by: Jessica Calder, Keith Calder, Mike Falbo, Chris Harding & Ed Helms
directed by: Patrick Brice
runtime: 86 min.
rating: R (for pervasive language, sexual content, some gore and brief nudity)
U.S. release date: September 20, 2019 (limited theaters & Amazon, iTunes & VOD)

 

If you’re trapped underground for days after a cave-in with eleven other people and limited supplies, who would you rather eat – someone you just met, a co-worker or your annoying boss? That’s right, I said who not what. That’s what kind of movie “Corporate Animals” is, so how much enjoyment you get out of this supposed dark comedy depends on how funny you find cannibalism. I’m game for anything as long as the script is good (notice I didn’t say “great”? I’m easy like that), but unfortunately the last independent film from director Patrick Brice (“The Overnight” and two “Creep” movies) really can’t seem to wring any laughs out of what is essentially a workplace comedy from Sam Bain, an English writer known for “Peep Show” and “Fresh Meet” (the former has nothing to do with cannibalism). There may be interesting personality conflicts to mine here, but “Corporate Animals” would rather just vacillate between silliness and gross shocks.

Lucy Vanderton (Demi Moore) is the CEO of a cosmetics company that has recently tackled the problem of single-use plastics with the creation of Incredible Edible Cutlery, which are forks, spoons, and knives, made out of potatoes. We meet Lucy and ten of her employees as they are about to experience one of those team-building exercises that every employee dreads. Against their will, she has brought then to an outdoor adventure in New Mexico run by a guide named Brandon (Ed Helms), in order to build morale and test their endurance. Obnoxiously selects the Experienced Path for the spelunking adventure, Lucy forces her team, consisting of her right-hand contenders, Jess (Jessica Williams) and Freddie (Karan Soni), as well as Billy (Dan Bakkedahl), eager intern Aidan (Calum Worthy), Suzy (Nasim Pedrad), Derek (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), May (Jennifer Kim), Ian (Frank Bond), Gloria (Martha Kelly), and Victoria (Wendy Meredith) into an underground cave, hoping the group will come together and surprise themselves with what they can accomplish.

 

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Of course, things are not going to go as planned in such a comedy and earthquake triggers a cave-in which kills Brandon and seals off any possible exits, leaving the scared employees with very little options or resources. It doesn’t take long for mental and physical strain takes a toll on everyone with behaviors turning sour and overall moral nosediving into a combination of panic and delirium.

The exercise challenges actually start out on the surface as Lucy watches her staff take on a problem solving test as they try to physically move a gigantic concrete ball using whatever materials are around them. This ends in Aidan acquiring an alarming leg wound, yet the reckless Lucy berates the group for not accomplishing their goal. It’s a situation that sets the tone for how undervalued these employees are by their clueless, narrow-minded boss.

Once underground, “Corporate Animals” injects a few macabre moments into what is essentially a tired workplace comedy. Bain’s screenplay provides some recognizable office irritations and the typical resentment seen in so many other television shows and movies with this subject matter. There’s an exchange of dialogue between Moore and Soni about halfway into the movie that offers the only interesting statement on how men and women are perceived and appreciated in the workplace (at least in corporate America) for years, but beyond that Bain is opting for silliness over substance and that’s too bad considering there could be some fascinating material to mine here.

 

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There is actually a fine cast here, but unfortunately what they have to work with feels old and cliched. Try as they might with Bain’s characters, the actors just can’t seem to deliver anything new or different, despite some solid interplay. It’s a shame to see Jessica Williams (so great in “The Incredible Jessica James”) and Isiah Whitlock Jr. given stereotypical roles to portray. The characters are broadly realized, hardly offering any noticeable nuance, amid a litany of jokes that try way too hard. I never uttered one chuckle, not even a smirk.

The only interesting and possibly promising element of the movie is its opening corporate promo which has a fun, weirdly odd tone to it, but then it settles in to familiar territory with Moore’s Lucy being an overbearing egomaniac, someone all of her subordinates despise.  Much of this is communicated repeatedly with very little character growth, but Brice does gives the movie jolts of energy here and there,  maintaining a zippy pace and having fun with visual gags like a body part used for nourishment.

Made by the production company that Helms co-owns, “Corporate Animals” premiered last January as part of Sundance’s Midnight programs – which, as is the case with many other international film festivals, including Chicago – typically means that you can prepare yourself for a horror film of some kind or at least have one with such genre connotations. I have to think it got into Sundance solely based on the cast and the need to fill a Midnight slot, since most comedic potential is squandered and the end result simply fails.

 

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RATING: *

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