Two years before Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant introduced us to the horrors of Wernham-Hogg, 'Beavis And Butt-Head' creator Mike Judge took us on a tour of Initech, a faceless company remarkable only for its brow-beaten staff and stifling bureaucracy. As it took a while for people to cotton on to 'The Office, so Judge's Office Space bombed at the American box-office. But while its failure in the US led to it going straight-to-disc in the UK, DVD was to prove the film's salvation, strong word-of-mouth eventually making the picture so popular, the distributors were called upon to bestow Special Edition status upon the former orphan.
Office Space's initial failure will seem odd to anyone familiar with this brilliantly realised film. The hero of Judge's story is Peter Gibbons (Livingstone), a burnt-out wuss who lives in fear of being asked to work weekends by his slimeball boss Bill Lumbergh (Cole, incredible).
Doomed to a life of 9-to-5 daydreaming and deadline stress, Peter is finally brought to his senses by a hypnosis session with Mike McShane's portly shrink. No longer burdened with self-doubt, he takes a relaxed attitude to work which amazingly wins over the company's employment assessors. Now all that's left is for Peter and his colleagues Samir and Michael (Naidu and Herman) to get their own back on the firm that's given them so little and taken so much.
While it might have had some influence upon Gervais and Merchant, it would be wrong to think that 'The Office' and Office Space had much in common. There's no documentary approach here and many of the supporting characters are caricatures. Not that they're less memorable for being broadly drawn. From Gary Cole's tour de force turn as Lumbergh, the middle-manager's middle manager, to Stephen Root's twitchy performance as company doormat Milton, Office Space is so rich in hilarious parts, Judge should have been obliged to rent a few out to less amusing films.
In addition to big laughs, Office Space has effective points to make about a working world where people manufacture nothing except enough bitterness and frustration to fuel a dozen Joy Division albums. The writer-director's also keen to point out the attractiveness and attainability of an alternative existence - Peter's lazy Saturday will have workaholics the world over hitting the snooze button. It's jokes, though, that are the main order of the day and Office Space's best gags verge on brilliance - if you thought naming a character Michael Bolton was a one-joke wheeze, wait until you see David Herman's session with John McGinley and Paul Wilson's AOR-savvy work consultants.
A film so good even Jennifer Aniston shines (she plays a waitress in one of those TGI Friday-style eateries which reward the unnaturally peppy), Office Space is an extension of its lead character - a little guy who proves capable of incredible things. And if the emphasis is on the (slightly) larger-than-life, there's no escaping the fact that this is a film about a place where a lot of its audience works. Indeed, the next time you dream of taking a baseball bat to the fax machine, Office Space already beat you to it.
In a nutshell: So good, you should quit work to see it.
By Richard Luck