When one person writes, directs and stars in a film, the results can range from enlightening (Stanley Tucci’s lovely Big Night) to frightening (Kenneth Branagh’s horrific Frankenstein). The usual give-and-take of filmmaking — the checks and balances of this cooperative medium — are put aside for one person’s belief that they know best. In Company Man, from the moment Douglas McGrath (who co-wrote and co-directed with Peter Askin) appears on-screen, it’s obvious that this film falls into the disaster category.
As Allen Quimp, a grammar teacher and driving instructor at a Greenwich, Conn., prep school in 1959, he should be the epitome of white-male authority. But McGrath plays him as a bumbling, pedantic milquetoast with a moronic grin. To impress his bullying, ambitious wife, Daisy (Sigourney Weaver, again showing her great comedic chops in a substandard film), Quimp pretends he’s a CIA agent in deep cover. In the first of many unbelievable (and painfully unfunny) scenarios, he’s actually hired by “the Company” and sent to sleepy Cuba, which no one in the CIA seems to realize is on the verge of a revolution.
As a screenwriter (Bullets Over Broadway) and director (Emma), McGrath has built a sufficient reputation to attract a great cast. Alan Cumming, who portrays the deposed despot Fulgencio Batista as a materialistic dandy, and a gleefully blustering Anthony LaPaglia as Fidel Castro, equal parts revolutionary philosopher and media hound, are the standouts. But the appearance of Woody Allen as Quimp’s clueless supervisor paints a more pathetic picture. Once a strikingly original auteur who turned navel-gazing into a comedic art, Allen is now a worn-out clown sadly rehashing old shtick.
With scant few bright spots, Company Man is a waste of talent and subject matter. The Bay of Pigs has great comic potential and, as the recent conference in Cuba commemorating the 40th anniversary of the invasion proves, truth is stranger — and funnier — than this fiction.
Showing exclusively at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). Call 248-542-0180.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at email@example.com.