Novice screenwriter John Scott Shepherd was obviously paying attention in 1999. He no doubt noticed the massive mainstream and critical success of American Beauty and the cult followings of Fight Club and Office Space, and surely said to himself, "Hmmm, this whole thing about cubicle workers being full of pent-up frustration seems to be significant. I'll bet I can do something like that--but make it really funny." And so, Joe Somebody was born. Then, producer Brian Reilly somehow came to the conclusion that the perfect person to play the central role of a put-upon nebbish filmmaker for a big corporation would be...Tim Allen.
Yeah, that makes sense--a guy best known for grunting like a pig and blowing things up on TV playing a sensitive filmmaker who really wants to be a creative writer. Allen clearly wants to stretch, but he isn't Plastic Man. It isn't until Joe starts getting confident and cocky that Allen starts to feel a little more natural in the role, and by then the movie's plot has all but evaporated into a series of wispy gags that barely register.
About that plot: Allen's Joe Scheffer, a sensitive AV-club-nerd-gone-corporate, makes commercials and intra-office films for a pharmaceutical company. He's still recovering from a messy divorce with wife, Callie (Kelly Lynch), and his only friend is his 12-year-old daughter (Hayden Panettiere). On Take Your Daughter to Work Day, his parking space is snagged by the office bully, Mark McKinney (not the Kids in the Hall cast member, but Seinfeld's Puddy, Patrick Warburton). Confronting Mark, Joe gets smacked in the face a couple of times, humiliating him in front of his daughter and co-workers. One three-day drunken binge later, he decides to take revenge and challenges Mark to a rematch.
Having thus set up Mark as Joe's bête noir, the film proceeds to then ignore him for virtually the rest of the movie (anyone expecting a prolonged battle between the two Buzz Lightyears--Warburton voiced him in the 2000 animated TV series--will be sorely disappointed). Newly energized with confidence when his co-workers stand behind him for threatening violence to the hated bully, Joe buys new suits, sings Backstreet Boys songs on karaoke night, accidentally sets his hairspray on fire, spontaneously learns how to master squash during the course of a single game and shakes hands with Jesse Ventura. (The entire film seems to have been set in Minnesota merely to entice its media-whore governor to make an appearance.) These are supposed to be the funny parts. When the film--directed by John Pasquin, who helmed previous Allen vehicles The Santa Clause and Jungle2Jungle--wants to get serious, it has Joe hit on a pretty co-worker (Julie Bowen), who naturally liked him the way he was, before he decided to hit anyone.
There are minor chortles to be had, but they aren't induced by Allen. Ally McBeal's Greg Germann does his patented annoying-office-guy routine, what he's best at, while Jim Belushi amuses (something he hasn't done in a while) playing a very unlikely karate teacher--and the washed-up star of such films as Maximum Punishment and Tom Sawyer Must Die. It's possible America needs a movie like Joe Somebody at year's end, if only for those in the audience terrified of English accents and trailers that promise, "From the Academy Award-winning director of..." But even those folks would probably be happier watching Home Improvement reruns on the Disney Channel.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Observer's biggest stories.