Corporate Animals, 2019.
Directed by Patrick Brice.
Directed by Demi Moore, Ed Helms, Jessica Williams, Karan Soni, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Martha Kelly, Dan Bakkedahl, Calum Worthy, Jennifer Kim, and Nasim Pedrad.
Lucy (Demi Moore) is the egotistical megalomaniac CEO of Incredible Edibles, America’s premier provider of edible cutlery. In her infinite wisdom, Lucy leads her staff including her long-suffering assistants, Freddie (Karan Soni) and Jess (Jessica Williams), on a corporate team-building caving weekend to New Mexico. When disaster strikes, not even their useless guide, Brandon (Ed Helms), can save them. Trapped underground by a cave-in, this mismatched and disgruntled group must pull together in order to survive.
Much to the dismay of this “Worskploitaion” advocate, Patrick Brice’s Corporate Animals is a disastrous horror-comedy. Actors who deserve far batter waste their breath on meandering sexual puns and lifelessly projected survival “terror.” I *think* this movie is supposed to be comical? Color me shocked, given how I barely gave any gag more than a perplexed smirk. Pacing is wonky-wobbly, dark humor never as morbid as intended, and corporation satirization barely simmers above a lukewarm temperature. It’s a movie that punches its time card, but never puts forth the effort required.
Demi Moore leads a teambuilding expedition into New Mexico’s cavern system as Incredible Edibles’ self-serving and egotistical CEO. She runs the world’s largest digestible cutlery company, so what’s an “Advanced” trail challenge? The group’s guide (Brandon, played by Ed Helms) assures Lucy her staff isn’t ready after a failed cooperation exercise, but she insists they must prove their worth. Cut to minutes later when a cave-in traps assistant Jess (Jessica Williams), another assistant Freddie (Karan Soni), intern Aidan (Calum Worthy) and the rest of Lucy’s employees underground. Time to talk about overtime compensation – if they can survive.
Corporate Animals starts on the lowest of notes with an “unmovable orb” task that’s failed miserably (slicing a wound in Aidan’s leg) and never recovers. Everyone’s playing unserved workplace stereotypes, from the kiss-ass youngster to bitter and jaded middle-aged “not even supposed to be here” guy. An utter lack of enthusiasm is displayed as Billy (Dan Bakkedahl) messes with eager beaver Aidan – being no help – or when Jess and Freddie joust for Moore’s attention, both eyeing a new VP promotion. All this while Brandon watches over, as Ed Helms attempts to “outdoorsman hardass” his way through what might be the funnyman’s most miscast role. It’s all base-value dramatic development and obvious foreshadowing, never more than plotted necessity.
Once the cave-in takes place (unexplained, mind you), things only get worse and not in the intended entertaining ways. Brandon is crushed in the process trying to escape, and his body becomes a topic of conversation after a few days. With nothing to eat, the suggestion of cannibalism arises within Lucy’s squad. The carcass is “ripening,” and the stranded need some form of nutrition with no Incredible Edibles left. What should be a tone-altering snap about the morality and survival demand of eating human flesh barely alters ongoing hierarchal bickering amongst those trapped outside office hours. Corporate Animals tries to play nonchalant, finding humor in the normalcy of such a gruesome task, but it’s a detrimental blandness as Jess and others bite into Brandon’s severed arm like barbeque.
Sequences are structured over days within “Cathedral Cavern,” with some more forgettable than the previous. Why do we need a whole day wasted on Freddie finding out the entire office knows he’s nothing but Lucy’s boy-toy hookup, ending on the line, “You didn’t teach me how to fuck – PORN taught me how to fuck.” Others are lost to cartoon interludes with introspective ice cream men, Vomitron disgust after drinking impure reptilian bathing water, and other random interludes that never, EVER cohesively coexist. In a movie about possible death with no rescue (did I mention Lucy doesn’t follow ANY protocols like filing an expedition log in case of, well, what happens), so much time is spent dissecting corporate entitlement dynamics through immature namecalling and toothless mutiny in the name of sticking it to your asshole boss.
Sam Bain’s screenplay is messy and scattershot, in a way that Brice can’t pull together. It takes zero development for Lucy’s team to channel their mistreatment into expressed aggression, jumping right in to Lucy’s condemnation versus naturally allowing factions to form or tension to first leak out via smaller conflicts. This in a film that includes CSI: New York’s Gary Sinise as superfan Freddie’s spirit guide, Britney Spears’ voice in Aidan’s head, full-frontal male nudity, an invented “kinetic charger” that only works when you’re making a jerkoff hand motion, an actual “Weinsteining” joke – seriously, the phrase “Weinsteining” is used to describe an inappropriate workplace relationship. None of it’s particularly funny, nor conceptualized beyond the inclusion of a weird pop culture reference. “If women can’t be as horrible as men, then what’s feminism for!” Roll eyes, sigh, repeat the cycle.
Demi Moore is a goshdang professional and does her best to make Lucy as unlikable as possible. Not a hard task between constant social media obsessions, micromanagement, and manipulation, but that’s also one of the film’s biggest problems. Lucy is hatable from the very beginning, leveraging status against Suzy (Nasim Pedrad) when “encouraging” Suzy to repel down jagged cliffside drops. Everything is about Lucy, corrupted by stolen success to the point where there’s no gratification in seeing Jess or Freddie lash back. Characterizations are so exaggerated, overblown where someone with years of corporate experience – this critic – could never engage in the most basic interpretations of power dynamics gone sour. Don’t you just want to kill your boss, sometimes?! Those thoughts are what fuel Corporate Animals, never the appropriate fantasy nor catharsis achieved.
Those seeking proper “Worksploitation” anger should opt for Severance, Bloodsucking Bastards or Mayhem. Titles that embrace the horrific and harrowing elements of teambuilding gone deathly chaotic. Examples of 9-5 comedy existing in a genre universe meant to comment on real injustices brushed off day after day by toxic work environments. Movies that appropriately express the rage that can build inside those worker cogs who ensure the larger business machine operates with maximum efficiency but reap no monetary benefits. Corporate Animals fails on all accounts, earning quite the unimpressive performance review. “Room For Improvement” would be any assessor’s biggest takeaway across the board.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Matt spends his after-work hours posting nonsense on the internet instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don’t feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged). Follow him on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd (@DoNatoBomb).