Take a sick day instead of getting trapped with this unfunny indie
The release of Corporate Animals has been a long time coming. Following the film’s world premiere at Sundance where initial reviews were mixed, there was still enough of a buzz to hope that the indie effort would be a sort of Office Space meets Alive. Yet the film faced delay after delay with not even a trailer being cut and released until the last minute. It isn’t hard to see the filmmakers’ predicament when it came to unleashing the film onto the world. Mixed reviews aside, I’m not sure how one would market a movie like this. Still, maybe it’s just my own sense of humor, but I can’t think of a better potion for a dark comedy than office politics and cannibalism, especially given how closely the two mirror each other. To its credit, the movie does fit the above notion of taking two intriguing elements from other films and meshing them together. If only the ensuing result they made from those parts could have been as intriguing as the idea itself.
In Corporate Animals, the dangerously determined Lucy (Demi Moore), CEO of Incredible Edibles, a company known for manufacturing potato-flavored cutlery that can be eaten, takes her team of employees (Isiah Whitlock, Jessica Williams, Karan Soni, Martha Kelly, Calum Worthy, Nasim Pedrad, Jennifer Kim and Dan Bakkedahl) on a team building retreat hosted by the slightly “over it” Brandon (Ed Helms). Hoping to boost the team’s morale (and distract from the fact that the company is going under), Lucy encourages her team to follow Brandon in to a deep, remote cave where they will test their collective strength and bond. As expected however, the cave eventually closes in on the group, leaving them stranded with only each other to cling to.
It’s pretty obvious that Corporate Animals aims to be the kind of comedic horror/thriller that genre fans lavish praise on before deeming it worthy of the kind of cult status such worthy film oddities earn. But there’s nothing original, or even remotely memorable, about this offering from director Patrick Brice. The pacing is too rushed and the script is so incredibly bare that such a status was never even possible. The group is barely in the cave for a few minutes before they find themselves trapped both literally by the boulder blocking their exit and by the confines of a script which makes no effort whatsoever to disguise any of its plot turns. Be forewarned: everything you think will happen will happen with as little cinematic panache and/or surprise as possible. What’s left in the way of suspense is a waiting game of sorts among both characters and audience regarding which of the unlucky employees will break first. Each of these people eventually crack in ways which feel real enough (at least according to what little we know about them). Once this happens, there’s little left for the trapped team to do but turn on each other, with various coworkers exposing one another’s secrets. Again, none of what’s revealed is that shocking, or even interesting, quite frankly. The main trouble is that by this point in time, the stranded survival of the fittest sub-genre is like so many others; a path so well-worn and explored, that unless a film can turn such a scenario on its head in a novel way (which Corporate Animals definitely does not), it needn’t even bother.
Corporate Animals also looks to sell itself as an office comedy with some quirky darkness scattered throughout. There is comedy throughout, plenty of it as a matter of fact. The problem with it all is that it just doesn’t work The biggest of these reasons is that the movie is populated with stereotypes instead of characters, relying on preconceived notions more than anything genuine. As a result, most of the comedic beats are about how a stereotype would react instead of a regular flesh and blood person in extraordinary circumstances. The issue has been brought up in some reviews regarding the likability of some of the characters, in particular Lucy. For me, the question of whether or not a character is likable has always come second to whether or not a character is interesting. Unfortunately, with every person on the screen depicted as a desperate loser, there’s just no reason or motivation to care about what happens to any of them. It definitely doesn’t help that the various assortment of gags assigned to each character by the script are all stunningly unfunny. There are few things as bad as a movie that believes it’s more than it is, which Corporate Animals certainly does. The movie suffers from an overconfidence which causes it to stumble more than soar, which is perhaps why many of the jokes don’t land. Some of the comedy misfires include a couple of coworkers using Gloria’s (Kelly) lupus as an argument for eating her should their situation continue to escalate and intern Aidan (Worthy) providing the only source of actual light via a wrist-watch which gives off a glow when it’s wearer makes masturbation motions in order to keep it lit. Maybe, just maybe, in another (better) script, such humor might’ve worked. Here, it never stood a chance.
Moore has delivered some pretty decent lead turns in recent years (the fun thriller Mr. Brooks, the slick mystery Flawless and the clever satire The Joneses), all of which bear little resemblance to the movie star persona she cultivated in the 90s and instead, show an actress eager to explore the different aspects of her craft. But Corporate Animals is a misstep for her. Replacing Sharon Stone (who might’ve made some of the lazier moments work), Moore’s awkwardness at the movie’s comedic beats are too hard to ignore, especially given the fact that her character is a third-rate version of the one she played in Disclosure. By contrast, Helms manages the right tone and gives the movie a kind of energy that suggests it might not be a total waste of time. Unfortunately his character is ushered off far too quickly for any of his participation to truly matter. While the rest of the cast certainly came with the best of intentions, they can only give so much to a script that has them play nothing but the obvious with regards to their cardboard characters. The only one who manages to keep up with rise above the mediocrity is Kelly as the Gloria, giving a masterclass in deadpan and earning plenty of laughs as a result.
Even though I never caught it during its brief run, Corporate Animals can’t help but remind me of Fox’s Woops!, the 1992 ill-fated sitcom in which five Americans found themselves the only survivors of a nuclear holocaust. Each episode of the sitcom featured the mismatched group as they tried to rebuild society while not killing each other out of frustration. This curio of a sitcom was already well into trouble when a Christmas episode featuring a surprise appearance from Santa Claus (suffering from survivor’s guilt) launched the soon-to-be-canceled series into TV history with one of the worst half hours to ever be broadcast. As severely misguided as Woops! was, credit must be given to its makers for at least taking a radical premise and having the guts to explore it. Corporate Animals suffers from the exact opposite problem thanks to its makers, who are content to rest on the premise and set-up rather than seeing how far they can take it. Whether this is out of laziness or fear remains anyone’s guess, but in no way has Corporate Animals earned the right to be this self-contained and half-baked.