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Heroes of the Zeroes: The Promotion

by on August 26, 2010

Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“The Promotion”
Rated R

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.”

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