Joe Scheffer (Tim Allen) is the kind of schlub who never gets noticed, not because he isn’t a hard worker and all-around nice guy, but because he has the kind of nonassertive persona that blends into the decor. He has some sort of audiovisual job (it’s never spelled out) at some corporation and while his co-workers glide along the corridors with the slick assurance of earners on the make, Joe galumphs invisibly through his day. He’s vaguely aware of his unbearable lightness, but the real epiphany comes when a bully, someone slightly higher up on the corporate chain, punches him out over a parking space — in front of his daughter. It’s this grand humiliation that brings his sense of shrinking into oblivion to a precise point. “I’m afraid,” he says, “that I’m going to disappear.” Something must be done.
Which is not a bad premise, but since this a Tim Allen comedy you know it’s going to be less explored than exploited, mined for a few mild chuckles and then tossed away. And you know the chuckles are going to be very minor indeed when much too much time is spent unraveling a lame joke about Joe stapling his sleeve to a poster, allowing for a “meet cute” encounter with the girl this type of movie dictates he’s going to end up with. And despite the presence of “Ally McBeal”’s Greg Germann doing another turn as the office a-hole, the film’s calculated mainstream populist intentions prevent its workplace satire from approaching anything near the bite of, say, Mike Judge’s Office Space.
The secondary characters don’t help much either. Joe has a flaky ex-wife — she’s into yoga, so you know she must be a pretentious phony — and a supposedly brilliant young daughter who wants to be a playwright (we see a sample of her work at the end and it’s unintentionally god-awful). These two are essentially props. Jim Belushi does his patented big-hearted slob thing — he’s morphing into this generation’s Wallace Beery — as the martial arts instructor Scheffer turns to in his quest to become an equal to the bullying world. And if you think a guy getting kicked in the nuts repeatedly is funny, well, here’s your movie.
Actually, the scenes with Allen and Belushi have a kind of low-wattage charm — so much normal guyness in one space — and Allen throughout seems like somebody worth rooting for. But it’s the script that sinks this one — even when Allen finally gains some confidence, the screenplay remains timid and nondescript.
Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for Metro Times. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.