Rodney (Michael Vartan) and Mike (Sean Astin) are two hot-shot employees at an underdog tire company looking to break into the big time. They're best buds with the manager, Bob Farrell (Robert Klein), and as a team -- nay, as an office -- they all get through the 9-to-5 slog by picking on Ken Castro (David Cross), a wimpy salesman who makes it easy for them to turn him into the butt of every joke. After one wild night on the town, however, Rodney and Mike wake up to discover old Bob has had a heart attack and died on them, and seniority lands Ken the newly-vacated managerial position. Ken refuses to fire them (to avoid giving out hefty severance packages), demoting to secretaries instead, where they'll have to work alongside women they've spent the last several years of their lives being dicks to.
The obvious problem with making a film in which two guys learn from their sexist past is that the people making it must know what is and isn't sexist, and Rogers and Zide (as well as screenwriters Dan Callahan and Adam Ellison) apparently have no idea. Negative scenes have Rodney and Mike going to strip clubs, binge-drinking, and refusing to let a new secretary sit at their lunch table. Positive scenes include Rodney and Mike telling one of their new co-workers to give her husband a blowjob for their anniversary, helping another through "AA for dick," and the two guys teaching the entire secretarial staff how to be better at softball. The movie believes strongly that women care only about weddings and men care only about sports, that all women are dieting and sexual harassment jokes are a cute fumble. I firmly believe that there's a little leeway in comedy for tropes or stereotypes, because there are things about men and women that are probably true enough to joke about, but every one of these moments in Demoted summoned a feeling of shame to my stomach.
It's almost funny, really, because nobody in the film appears to have much shame themselves. Cross is on autopilot, clearly and willingly humiliating himself for a paycheck. He does pratfalls, tells lame jokes, and generally lowers himself to the material at every opportunity. The early scenes, where Rodney and Mike mercilessly savage him, are almost painful because Cross is so willing to go to the worst, most embarrassing level of sadness. It's almost admirable in a backward way: at least he commits to the film on its own terms. Astin, on the other hand, looks secretly ashamed of himself 90% of the time; you wonder if the disheveled clothes and embarrassed expression he has on his face through the first third of the movie is the character's or his own. Vartan lands right in the middle: uncommitted, unaffected. The fact that the secretaries themselves (led by Celia Weston and Cleo King) hardly even rate is a sign of the movie's own problems.
Beyond all of these issues, the film is also totally laugh-free and bogged down with unnecessary dead weight. A thread with Vartan's character where he lies about having been promoted and not demoted is a shameless attempt to give the film a little heart. (A similar side plot with Constance Zimmer as Mike's new boss Elizabeth works better thanks to Zimmer's own charm.) Frequent subjects of humor include pooping and peeing, gay porn, straight porn, men being called emasculating things like "coffee bitch" and "Nancy," and Ken failing to pick up on how much people hate him, best exemplified in a nine-hour scene where he tries to hit on Elizabeth. There's also a scene where Rodney's future father-in-law forces Rodney to stare at his dick. At one point, Sean Astin complains about co-workers leaving copies of 9 to 5 on his office chair. I hope that film is not the watermark Rogers and Zide are holding themselves to.
The Video and Audio
A Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 track has enough punchy music cues (the opening title song, the inside of a strip club, some of the score) and the occasional unsual scene (a toilet rumbling, an office being trashed from afar, a union rally) to give this quiet office comedy something to do in terms of surround sound. For the most part, yes, the track is devoted to people talking, and in that regard, the track wears the production on its sleeve a little (you can tell when lines were recorded from a different angle or in a different place), but it's a surprisingly active soundtrack for a less-than-active film. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and Spanish subtitles are also provided.