Doug (Seann William Scott) is beavering away as the assistant manager of a Chicago grocery store, feeling frustrated by his lack of progress and bedevilled by a strange man who occasionally appears out of nowhere to slap him, in relation to some sort of mistake over some Teddy Graham crackers. The grocery store chain is opening a new branch and Doug is told that he is a shoo-in for the manager’s job, until Richard (John C Reilly) arrives from Canada with his Scottish wife and young daughter and the competition starts to hot up.
The Promotion was initially released in US theatres in 2008 and it is a little unclear why it has sat on UK shelves for so long. As a film it is utterly unsurprising, but not without charm and although its predominant flaw is that it is unsure what it is trying to be, it raises a smile and modestly entertains throughout.
Although the tag line (Two guys. One job. No rules) suggests something of escalating chaos, as two desperate applicants become increasingly mean and combative in securing the eponymous position, the film is far more gentle and considered than that. There are occasions when one character or other will resort to slightly underhand tactics, but neither seem to possess the ruthlessness required to persist in that sort of vein, with a variety of changes of heart playing out within the sensibly brief 85-minute running time.
Some comedy is mined from the quirks of the other store staff, including one shelf-stacker who helps himself to cola and mouthwash before replacing the bottles on the shelves, but not nearly enough is made of these peripheral characters. Jokes are set up but not wholly seen through, characters introduced but not developed. It all feels a little half-baked, as if the writer and director (Steve Conrad) didn’t quite know what to do with the components in front of him.
Both Doug and Richard are likeable and their characters are coherently and consistently drawn, even if their respective partners are thin to say the least. Why does Richard’s wife need to be Scottish? Why not use a Scottish actress, or at least one that can provide a genuinely Scottish accent? If you’re going to have farcical, free-wheeling elements, why slip back into something more melancholy and thoughtful? What results are tonal shifts that make it hard to see what the director is aiming for, while the story itself remains predictable. Not a happy combination.
In the end, this is not a film that the world really needs, but it is harmless and at least in relation to the principals, well-performed. It is hard to work out who will really enjoy this, lacking as it does the anarchy and extremity of (say) Step Brothers or the more consistent quirkiness and distinctiveness of some of the more accomplished US-independent output. Not bad, just unnecessary and lacking in a clear tone. You can rent it now right here.