Archive Review: The Promotion (2008)


“The Promotion” is not a great or memorable comedy, but it’s a brave one. Brave in that it doesn’t give you what you expect from a comedy about Sean William Scott and John C. Reilly vying for the same promotion in a supermarket chain. The expectation is physical humor, gross-out shenanigans and general mayhem. What you get is a much more understated comedy that’s built upon that foundation but ends completely different. Some will find this violation of expectations refreshing — others will end up let down and bored.

Scott and Reilly are assistant managers for a fictitious supermarket in Chicago. Richard (Reilly) is a recovering drug addict that has just transferred from Canada, which makes him a threat for the manager position of a new location set to open up in the future. It’s a job that Doug (Scott) was a shoo-in for and one he was hoping would get him and his wife (Jenna Fischer) out of their thin-walled apartment and away from their banjo-playing sex fiend neighbor. Both are men in their early 30s trying to get to the next level and both are willing to do what it takes to get there.

Normally, this is where the comedy goes chaotic with the rival assisstant managers pulling obscene and childish pranks on one another, but not in “The Promotion.” The immaturity is there, no doubt, but in more realistic fashion: the lying and cheating is a bit more subtle. The laugh factor might take a hit, but the conflict escalation stays strong even if the lid doesn’t quite burst like it ought to.

Creator Steve Conrad (writer of “The Pursuit of Happiness”) deserves a pat on the back for this effort. His film is not the entertaining gut-buster most would make it out to be, but it’s still funny. It just doesn’t go out on a limb for some of the cheap jokes and slapstick of its blue-collar comedy predecessors. There’s still foul language like Doug cursing at the gang kids hanging out in the store parking lot and perverted humor like when the store’s Latinos convince Richard to ask one of the women about a supposedly excellent “sauce” that she “makes.” It’s there, but not as outlandish.

The real persuading factor with “The Promotion” is its unspectacular but mildly poignant ending. Conrad actually has something intelligent to say in his film, or at least a proposed new way of looking at things. This is where those other more hysterical films come up with some bogus, cheesy and marginally amusing ending to cool down the hijinx. “Promotion” makes a clear choice between the two possible endings to this story and offers up a unique explanation for it. That’s a positive way of defying genre conventions.

The entertainment threshold is certainly capped or limited by Conrad’s approach, but it’s applaudable in numerous ways and still enjoyable. It’s scaled back and if you’re open to that idea, it works. No person can check all expectations at the door upon watching a movie, but “The Promotion” will benefit from the open minds of viewers who choose to have them.

3.5/5 Stars

The Promotion (2008)
Written and Directed by Steve Conrad
Starring: Seann William Scott, John C. Reilly


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