Thursday, February 7, 2013

#906. Head Office (1985)

Directed By: Ken Finkleman

Starring: Judge Reinhold, Eddie Albert, Lori-Nan Engler

Tag line: "Join the lunatics that run the world's most irrational multinational"

Trivia: The band General Public is featured performing "Cry on Your Own Shoulder" in a night club scene

I hadn’t seen Ken Finkleman’s 1985 corporate satire, Head Office, since it played on cable in the mid-‘80s, and what I remembered most about it was its impressive cast. Starring Judge Reinhold, a well-known actor at the time thanks to Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Eddie Murphy’s smash hit, Beverly Hills Cop, Head Office also had Danny DeVito, Rick Moranis, Jane Seymour, and Eddie Albert, as well as character actors like Richard Masur (Clark in John Carpenter’s The Thing), Don Novello (better known in those days as Father Guido Sarducci), Wallace Shawn (The Princess Bride) and even boxing promoter Don King. Many of these performers come and go fairly quickly, yet still manage to leave their mark on the film. In truth, the cast of characters was the reason I chose to watch this movie again after all these years. As for the film’s story, I couldn’t recall a single detail. Therein lies the chief weakness of Head Office; aside from a few celebrities popping up here and there to generate laughs, it’s not a picture you’re going to remember.

Jack Issel (Reinhold), a recent graduate of Harvard’s Business School, has landed a job at I.N.C, one of the world’s largest corporations. What’s more, he finds himself rapidly ascending the corporate ladder, receiving a number of promotions in fast succession despite the fact he’s completely unqualified for the positions. Never once does he consider that his overnight success might have something to do with his father, a United States Senator (George Coe). Sure enough, I.N.C. is planning to shut down its factory in Allenville and relocate it to Latin America, and need an ally in the U.S. Government to pull it off. Oblivious to the reasons behind his meteoric rise, Jack enjoys the perks that go hand-in-hand with being a young executive. That is, until he falls for Rachel Helmes (Lori-Nan Engler), who, despite being the daughter of the company’s CEO (Jack Albert), is an activist trying to stop I.N.C. from closing the Allenville plant. Having spent much of his “career” doing very little, Jack joins forces with Rachel to fight this closure, and in the process pisses off a whole lot of people.

Right from the start, Head Office is tossing celebrities our way, and one of the first we encounter is Danny DeVito as Stedman, a loyal executive who gets caught up in an insider trading scandal. Stuck in traffic and fearful he’s about to lose his job, Stedman crawls out the window of the company limo, climbs over a few cars, and runs all the way to the office. Once there, he finds the furniture movers are already clearing out his belongings (“Beware the furniture movers”, Richard Masur’s Max tells Jack on his first day, “When the axe falls, they’re always the first to know. People see them coming, and they shit”). Next up is Rick Moranis as Harry Gross, an out-of-control PR man who does nothing but take phone calls. He even keeps his wife on hold, who’s calling to say her father passed away, so he can talk to the mechanic working on his Mercedes. Both DeVito and Moranis take their characters hilariously over-the-top, and bring a few laughs early on. In a slightly larger role is Jane Seymour as Jane Caldwell, the company slut who’s screwing all the right people on her way to the top. Caldwell is a far cry from the wholesome physician Seymour played on the TV series, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, and she’s excellent in the part. These three, along with Eddie Albert’s clueless CEO, Don Novello’s laid-back chauffeur and Wallace Shawn’s terminally ill executive, are the backbone of Head Office, and the reason I’d recommend it. There’s even a cameo by Brian Doyle-Murray as a God-fearing military officer (addressing a roomful of execs at a prayer breakfast, he says “Through business and Industry, the Lord God can once again become a real force in America”).

Unfortunately, the sharp humor Head Office displays early on gets bogged down in Jack’s and Rachel’s romantic entanglement, as well as the film’s attempt to mold the corporate chaos into some sort of morality tale about big business selling the working man down the river, which we’ve seen dozens of times before, in a variety of movies. Had the filmmakers stayed the course and allowed the various characters’ greed and dishonesty to remain in the spotlight, Head Office might have been something special. Instead, it’s just OK.

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