Joe Scheffer (Tim Allen) is a loving father, a dedicated 10-year corporate employee and all-around nice guy.
But that’s his problem.
Because he doesn’t quite fit the mold, he’s passed over for a long-promised promotion, gets dumped by his wife and gets beat up by workplace bully Mark McKinney (Patrick Warburton) in front of his daughter (Hayden Panettierie) and co-workers in the company parking lot.
Humiliated, Joe plots revenge, while also trying to discover who he truly is.
I went to “Joe Somebody,” not expecting much more than a trifle, but emerged from the theater pleasantly surprised.
Disaffected, middle-aged corporate males everywhere will rejoice in the film.
Director John Pasquin has worked with Allen on numerous productions, including “Jungle2 Jungle,” “Home Improvement” and “The Santa Clause,” however, their partnership never has been more fruitful.
One reason for this is the script, which, although somewhat formulaic, is more thought-provoking than most comedies.
For his feature-film debut, screenwriter John Scott Shepherd juggles a number of issues. For example, what does it mean to be male? Is it about rippling with muscles, exuding the heady smell of testosterone and driving a sporty car? Or is there more to it than these things?
Also, how do we measure success? Is it about belonging to a cliche and getting invited to company gatherings? Or should we look at how we affect the lives of those around us – our families?
Where do our choices take us?
Throughout the movie, Joe takes a journey to find out these answers for himself.
(If the script rings with authenticity, it’s because before turning to screenwriting, Shepherd himself schlepped in the corporate trenches as a video and film producer.)
Rarely can an actor make the leap from television series to feature film. But Allen has beat the odds primarily because he has a likable, easy going personality that adapts well to any medium.
(For his role as Tim Taylor on “Home Improvement,” a series that ran for eight seasons, the actor won a Golden Globe award and eight People’s Choice Awards.)
Up to this point, Allen has played it safe, playing fairly one-dimensional comedic characters. In this film he gets to stretch a bit more, combining his comic abilities with more dramatic fare.
He plays a video specialist working for a pharmaceutical company. (Some of the funniest bits in the film concern the side effects mentioned in the ad campaigns Joe puts together.) Although he’s good at his job, he goes through his life unnoticed. Joe is a character many can identify with, and Allen’s fans might find themselves surprised by what they find.
Although Allen gets top billing, “Joe Somebody” really belongs to Jim Belushi, an actor who despite some unfortunate career choices, really is an excellent comedian. At 47, he seems to be coming into his best years with an unforgettable part in last year’s “Return to Me” and now as Chuck Scarett, the former B-movie action star turned martial arts instructor. He plays a kind of Caucasian Miyagi, teaching Allen much more than karate.
Julie Bowen plays Meg Harper, Allen’s coworker and kindred spirit. As the wellness coordinator who decides she’s unhappy being someone she isn’t, Bowen proves she has some acting chops that will take her beyond television. (She stars as the dream girl in “Ed.”)
Greg Germann, who plays Richard Fish in “Ally McBeal,” again plays a slimy sleaze. He must be the 21st century’s answer to James Spader.
Sadly, Warburton, the main reason I saw the film, only is on screen for maybe four minutes. To get my fix, I guess I’ll just have to rent “Emperor’s New Groove” or tune in to “The Tick.”
In addition to a decent script and some noteworthy performances, for Midwesterners, “Joe Somebody’ has an added selling point – it was filmed entirely in Minnesota. So, for a change, you might actually recognize some of the places. (One scene is shot in Target Center, Minneapolis.)
It’s too bad that “Joe Somebody” was released around the same time as stunners “A Beautiful Mind” and “Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring,” because I’m afraid this better-than-average comedy won’t do as well as it might have.
If you’ve ever worked for a corporation – with their carbon copy dress code and soulless atmosphere – you’ll want to see “Joe Somebody.” It’s a film that gets a lot of things right.