Herman Melville's short story Bartleby the Scrivener gets a slightly surreal update in this offbeat comedy drama. The manager (David Paymer) of the city records department in a mid-sized California community decides that his staff of three -- flirty chatterbox Vivian (Glenne Headly), sloppy Vietnam vet Ernie (Maury Chaykin), and slick-suited, Don Juan wannabe Rocky (Joe Piscopo) -- could use some help, so he places an ad looking for a new employee. The boss ends up hiring the one and only applicant who wants the position, a quiet, pale young man named Bartleby (Crispin Glover). At first, Bartleby is a model of efficiency, but before long he loses enthusiasm for his job, much to the annoyance of his co-workers, and soon he's spending his days staring at an air conditioning vent. The Boss asks Bartleby to get back to work, but Bartleby's repeated reply to such requests is, "I prefer not to," and the Boss sees little recourse but to fire him. However, Bartleby refuses to leave his desk, and it soon becomes obvious that Bartleby has not only stopped doing his work -- he's stopped going home and has moved into the office. Bartleby was the first feature film for producer/director Jonathan Parker; he also wrote the screenplay, in collaboration with Catherine Di Napoli.
~ Mark Deming, All Movie Guide