A well-cast and performed comedy about the fight for a job promotion could have benefited from a harder edge and some more time in development.
Doug (Seann William Scott) is a married, hard working, mid-level employee at a local Chicago grocery chain and a candidate to become manager of his company's newest store. His current boss (Fred Armisen) is behind him--until serious competition arrives in the form of a transfer from Canada, Richard (John C. Reilly), who is determined to turn it into a two-man race as the chain's executives let both compete in a bizarre contest to come out on top. As tension rises between the two, so do the stakes when Richard attempts to appear smarter than he really is. A parking lot confrontation between the two heats things up to a boil, as both go for the jugular. Meanwhile, at home, Doug finds himself lying to his wife (Jenna Fischer) and telling her he already got the dream job--one that it is quickly turning into a nightmare.
For once Scott is nicely--and noticeably--restrained, playing a recognizable everyday guy trying to get ahead in his boring job. Scott, after a series of over-the-top comedies like the American Pie series and Mr. Woodcock, seems to be channeling his bland side in creating the kind of person we all know: a guy dedicated to job and wife, hard working, honest and--invisible. Reilly adds some familiar quirks to the looney Richard, but for some reason the character doesn't always add up and feels contrived throwing the whole picture off balance. In yet another lead role after last winter's flop Walk Hard, Reilly is beginning to show that a little bit of his style goes a long way. He's definitely entertaining to watch, however--especially in a scene in which he must make up a series of excuses to explain his screw-ups to his bosses. Sometimes less is more, and both stars admirably do what they are asked to do and make a game attempt to engage us in their battle. Armisen is appropriately droll as the current store manager, while Fischer is pleasant in her few scenes. A nice reliable supporting cast is also on board including Gil Bellows, Bobby Cannavale and Lili Taylor and they make the most of what they are given.
As a screenwriter Steve Conrad has found some success with off-beat films like The Weather Man and particularly the Will Smith hit The Pursuit of Happyness. Both films proved he was adept at creating uniquely different kinds of characters who march to their own drummers. Here in his directorial debut, though, he seems to be tempering his script when it needs to be juiced up. His low-key style behind the camera probably is a little too dry for this uneven but well meaning effort. On the plus side, he is clearly a writer/director who would prefer to leave the flash at home in favor of emphasizing acting and dialogue. Unfortunately, the overall slightness of The Promotion may not be getting Conrad more promotions into the director's chair anytime soon.
Hollywood.com rated this film 2 1/2 stars.