Dane Cook’s ‘Employee of the Month’ works… mostly

Dane Cook pursues Jessica Simpson in 'Employee of the Month'
Dane Cook pursues Jessica Simpson in ‘Employee of the Month’

The first time I actually saw Dane Cook perform in any way was on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. It was a recent repeat and he was promoting something else, but he told several stories and I literally woke my wife up because I was laughing so hard. As a result, I was pretty set up to look for a good time when I caught a screening of Employee of the Month last week.

It doesn’t take the film long to start in with the humor, and pretty quickly sets Cook’s character up as the likeable slacker, Zack. He’s a box boy at Super Club, a Sam’s Club or BJ’s-type warehouse store where you buy things like soup or toilet paper in bulk. He’s got a posse of misfits as his friends, such as Lon (Andy Dick), who sells eyeglasses at Super Club but has extremely poor eyesight; Russell (Harland Williams), who makes crude and bizarre analogies; and Iqbal (Brian George), a father of about a dozen children. His arch nemesis is Vince (Dax Shepard), the star cashier who has maintained a record of Employee of the Month awards, and is just one month shy of winning a new-ish car and getting on the fast track to a managerial promotion.

Then along comes Amy (Jessica Simpson), a beautiful new cashier who quickly catches Zack’s eye — as well as Vince’s. Rumors quickly spread that Amy sleeps with the Employee of the Month. In an effort to win that opportunity, Zack changes his slacker ways and sets out to be the best employee at Super Club. Zack and Vince then go head to head, battling for daily gold stars, as well as the affections of Amy. But only one can be… Employee of the Month.

Cook is instantly likeable, and Shepard is sharp as the jerky villain. But to be honest, much of the film’s humor comes from the supporting characters. Andy Dick actually manages to be subtle and funny, all at the same time. He surprised me the most in this film, because generally he is obnoxious in his roles. Harland Williams is also terrific, rattling off witty comments with clipped timing. Vince’s sidekick, Jorge, is played with innocent charm by Efren Ramirez. Although the role is only marginally different than the one he played in Napoleon Dynamite, he does it so well, it’s kind of hard not to find it funny.

Jessica Simpson, with Dax Shepard, in 'Employee of the Month'
Jessica Simpson, with Dax Shepard, in ‘Employee of the Month’

Of course, we can’t forget Jessica Simpson. I’ll be the first to say that the 26-year-old singer is stunningly beautiful. Drop dead. No question. But can she act?

Well, I’ll be honest, I thought she was pretty wooden in Dukes of Hazzard. In Employee of the Month, she’s actually more animated. She’s cute, her scenes are done nicely, and she is charming. At the same time, she doesn’t really do very much. In many of her scenes she simply reacts. I don’t want to be hard on her, because acting is a process. Some people can learn and get better. The best example would be Will Smith. He wasn’t terribly good when he first started in The Prince of Bel Air, but over the years he improved. Today he’s a respectable actor and a real talent.

Will this happen with Jessica Simpson? I’d like to think so. She doesn’t have the advantage of learning on a series that generally plays to her strengths, so she has to do it in these limited film roles. I’m a nice guy, mostly, so I wish her the best.

As for Employee of the Month, it’s a film that mostly works. It’s funny a good portion of the time, with a good collection of characters that keep it moving and entertaining. It does everything a good comedy should.

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