Peter: Ron Livingston
Joanna: Jennifer Aniston
Milton: Stephen Root
Bill Lumbergh: Gary Cole
Michael Bolton: David Herman
Samir: Ajay Naidu
Tom Smykowski: Richard Riehle
Lawrence: Diedrich Bader
Anne: Alexandra Wentworth
and directed by Mike Judge, based on his ``Milton'' animated
shorts. Running time: 90 minutes. Rated R (for language and
BY ROGER EBERT
Mike Judge's ``Office Space'' is a comic cry of rage against
the nightmare of modern office life. It has many of the same
complaints as ``Dilbert'' and the movie ``Clockwatchers''
and, for that matter, the works of Kafka and the Book of Job.
It is about work that crushes the spirit. Office cubicles
are cells, supervisors are the wardens, and modern management
theory is skewed to employ as many managers and as few workers
As the movie opens, a cubicle slave named Peter (Ron Livingston)
is being reminded by his smarmy supervisor (Gary Cole) that
all reports now carry a cover sheet. ``Yes, I know,'' he says.
``I forgot. It was a silly mistake. It won't happen again.''
Before long another manager reminds him about the cover sheets.
``Yes, I know,'' he says. Then another manager. And another.
Logic suggests that when more than one supervisor conveys
the same trivial information, their jobs overlap, and all
supervisors after the first one should be shredded.
Peter hates his job. So do all of his co-workers, although
one of them, Milton (Stephen Root), has found refuge through
an obsessive defense of his cubicle, his radio and his stapler.
Milton's cubicle is relocated so many times that eventually
it appears to have no entrance or exit; he's walled-in on
every side. You may recognize him as the hero of cartoons
that played on ``Saturday Night Live,'' where strangers were
always arriving to use his cubicle as storage space for cardboard
Mike Judge, who gained fame through MTV's ``Beavis and Butt-Head,''
and made the droll animated film ``Beavis and Butt-Head Do
America'' (1996), has taken his ``SNL'' Milton cartoons as
an inspiration for this live-action comedy, which uses Orwellian
satirical techniques to fight the cubicle police: No individual
detail of office routine is too absurd to be believed, but
together they add up to stark, staring insanity.
Peter has two friends at work: Michael Bolton (David Herman)
and Samir (Ajay Naidu). No, not that Michael Bolton, Michael
patiently explains. They flee the office for coffee breaks
(demonstrating that Starbucks doesn't really sell coffee--it
sells escape from the office).
Peter is in love with the waitress at the chain restaurant
across the parking lot. Her name is Joanna (Jennifer Aniston)
and she has problems with management, too. She's required
to wear a minimum of 15 funny buttons on the suspenders of
her uniform; the buttons are called ``flair'' in company lingo,
and her manager suggests that wearing only the minimum flair
suggests the wrong spirit (another waiter has ``45 flairs''
and looks like an exhibit at a trivia convention).
The movie's dialogue is smart. It doesn't just chug along
making plot points. Consider, for example, Michael Bolton's
plan for revenge against the company. He has a software program
that would round off payments to the next-lowest penny and
deposit the proceeds in their checking account. Hey, you're
thinking--that's not original! A dumb movie would pretend
Not ``Office Space,'' where Peter says he thinks he's heard
of that before, and Michael says, ``Yeah, they did it in `Superman
III.' Also, a bunch of hackers tried it in the '70s. One got
The movie's turning point comes when Peter seeks help from
an ``occupational hypnotherapist.'' He's put in a trance with
long-lasting results; he cuts work, goes fishing, guts fish
at his desk and tells efficiency experts he actually works
only 15 minutes a week. The experts like his attitude and
suggest he be promoted. Meanwhile, the Milton problem is ticking
like a time bomb, especially after Milton's cubicle is relocated
to a basement storage area.
``Office Space'' is like the evil twin of ``Clockwatchers.''
Both movies are about the ways corporations standardize office
routines, so that workers are interchangeable and can be paid
as little as possible.
``Clockwatchers'' was about the lowest rung on the employment
ladder--daily temps--but ``Office Space'' suggests that regular
employment is even worse, because it's a life sentence. Asked
to describe his state of mind to the therapist, Peter says,
``Since I started working, every single day has been worse
than the day before, so that every day you see me is the worst
day of my life.''
Judge, an animator until now, treats his characters a little
like cartoon creatures. That works. Nuances of behavior are
not necessary, because in the cubicle world every personality
trait is magnified, and the captives stagger forth like grotesques.
There is a moment in the movie when the heroes take a baseball
bat to a malfunctioning copier. Reader, who has not felt the