What are the two most dangerous places in the world? Just going by a whole bunch of independent movies those two places are undoubtedly corporate America and suburban America. Movies as wildly diverse and incompatible as Revolutionary Road American Psycho Fight Club and Office Space all tell us that the suburbs and your typical corporate workplace are soul-sucking snake pits where ambition thrives and creativity dies. Price Check director Michael Walker’s first film since the Jeff Daniels thriller Chasing Sleep twelve years ago goes where oh-so-many films have gone before it and fully embraces these twin clichés to its smug satisfaction and our boredom.
Pete (Eric Mabius) is a likable thirtysomething Everydude in suburban Long Island supporting a wife and toddler son by working a dead-end marketing job for what appears to be the Dunder-Mifflin of supermarket chains. He’d rather be working for a record label like he did right out of Dartmouth but everyone keeps telling him “the music industry is dead.” Pete’s the kind of guy who likes to roll up his sleeves to show everyone how hard he’s working while being too much of a "nice guy " as his new boss Susan (Parker Posey) tells him to climb up the corporate ladder. Even if he were to land a vice president job at the chain he’d turn it down so he could spend more time with his family. Yeah. Right. But that is what he tells himself. With him and his wife always scrounging to meet each month’s mortgage payment and fending off phone calls from creditors Pete could really use a higher-paying job.
(Un)Luckily enough for him when Susan’s brought in from Los Angeles to head up the office and turn the supermarket’s fortunes around—“Our stores look like time vaults from 1985 ” she says—she sets her sights on Pete. Susan sees potential in him she says and quickly makes him her VP…and go-to lackey to implement her ambitious new ideas into a workplace culture that’s severely complacent. Queen of the Indies Posey devours the monochromatic office-space scenery by doing all the things corporate goons who are super confident and super vulgar do: perpetually chewing gum downing Pepto Bismol as if it were scotch performing drunken karaoke obsessing over the fact that someone went to Dartmouth actually saying things like “I’m PMS-ing ” laughing at her underling’s ratty suit then buying him a $6 000 one. For the latter she could only have upped her obnoxiousness quotient if she’d pulled a Gob Bluth and said “Who do you want to look like: the guy in the $6 000 suit or the guy who doesn’t make that in two months? Come on!” In short Posey's neurotic Weimaraner owner and Kama Sutra practitioner in Best in Show is a more subtle character.
Susan takes Pete on a corporate trip to Los Angeles to give her higher-ups a status update on how the new proposals she’s implemented have enhanced productivity. It’s not spoiling anything to say based on the index of clichés already enumerated that they get quite a bit closer during the trip and Pete’s life becomes even more stressful as a result.
Like his put-upon magazine editor Daniel Meade on Ugly Betty Eric Mabius is a likable low-key actor even if his Pete seems more like a character written for Jason Bateman. He does the best with the material given him but the central dilemma facing Pete—to follow his youthful dreams to his family’s financial detriment or pursue material comfort at the cost of his self-respect—has been expressed so many times before. And so many times better. Price Check’s sole insight is that people who live on Long Island do eat exclusively at TGI Fridays. Any menu item at that wonderful restaurant is more satisfying than this film.
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt