CORPORATE ANIMALS (2019) review: A Painfully Unfunny Satire of Office Culture
Demi Moore as Lucy
Nasim Pedrad as Suzy
Ed Helms as Brandon
Karan Soni as Freddie
Jessica Williams as Jess
Isiah Whitlock Jr. as Derek
Martha Kelly as Gloria
Dan Bakkedahl as Billy
Calum Worthy as Aidan
Even with a paltry runtime of eighty-six minutes, Corporate Animals is an absolute chore to sit through. The film’s attempt to satirize corporate culture is painfully unfunny. A decent ensemble cast on paper have zero chemistry on screen. They didn’t have much to work with. A witless script and poor direction exacerbates every terrible aspect. Corporate Animals is an unwatchable clunker. It is easily one of the worst films of the year.
Demi Moore stars as Lucy Vanderton, the arrogant and overbearing CEO of Incredible Edibles; a company that makes consumable cutlery. She forces her browbeaten employees to attend a team building retreat in the New Mexico desert. Freddie (Karan Soni) is Lucy’s whimpering executive assistant and boy toy. Jess (Jessica Williams), her latest protege, competes with Freddie for the prized vice president position. Their remaining co-workers are mostly forgettable, except for Suzy (Nasim Pedrad), whose bisexual relationships add to the interpersonal frey.
The Incredible Edibles retreat goes south dramatically when Lucy, against the warnings of their guide (Ed Helms), forces the group to spelunk an underground cave system. They predictably become trapped by an earthquake. The simmering resentments toward Lucy explode in the tight confines. All secrets are laid bare as the last potato fork is eaten. As time passes and starvation mounts, desperate measures are taken to fill hungry bellies.
Corporate Animals starts off with an intriguing premise. The idea of hapless workers trapped without food is clever. The breakdown of civility in a desperate situation could have been thoughtfully explored. Instead we get a hackneyed script that’s sitcom level stupid. The characters bickering about promotions, favoritism, and sexual antics is dreadfully dull. Corporate Animals is as far from brilliant satire as it gets. The office dynamics are yawn inducing. All interest is lost by the time the plot takes a darker turn. At this point Corporate Animals becomes even sillier. The film goes from bad to worse and never recovers.
Lackluster direction is the primary culprit for the film’s failure. Patrick Brice (Creep, Creep 2) gets nothing from a cast of known Hollywood regulars. The performances are clunky and forced. Demi Moore rattles off her lines like she’s racing for the door. Talented comedians who’ve been hilarious in terrible films struggle mightily here. Everyone in the cast looks like foolish amateurs when the horror elements kick in. A dream sequence with Ed Helms and Karan Soni boggles the mind with stupidity. I couldn’t imagine being an actor filming something so ridiculous. Corporate Animals plummets like a meteor into B-movie territory. Patrick Brice needed to be better in every regard.
Corporate Animals is a big disappointment. There was meat on the bone with this premise. Corporate culture is ripe for satire, especially where the plot goes with the starvation remedy. Instead we get uninspired dreck, a dud with nothing positive to recommend. Corporate Animals is not worth a second of your time. The film is produced by Pacific Electric Picture Company, Protagonist Pictures, and Snoot Entertainment with distribution from Screen Media Films.
Sam Bain’s thin script aspires to be a satire about tech startup culture and the silly ethos that would inspire a manager to throw their company into a reckless venture — both in the personnel and financial sense — but never goes beyond blaming Lucy for the team’s problems. While frivolous pop culture references abound, the movie never gives any insight into the corporate culture it’s skewering. Lucy’s cruelty sometimes ends up the punchline but it’s not always well handled. For instance, when it’s revealed that Lucy has been sleeping with one of her employees since he was an intern, there are a few Weinstein jokes at her expense and the movie moves on. It’s like a name drop and done, like a half-hearted line from a “Family Guy” episode. The jokes made about the Incredible Edible Cutlery Company, its less successful expansion into education and impending implosion feel similarly shallow. It’s a shame because startup culture can be fertile ground for comedy as we have seen on the show “Silicon Valley” or the scathing workplace movie, “Office Space.”
In this case, the sole appeal of “Corporate Animals” comes from its cast. Moore brings a chaotic, irresponsible energy to her team as their selfish leader. Even when things are going well, she’s the most likely culprit to throw a wrench in the group’s plans of escape. The more sane employees of this soon-to-fail company are played by an ensemble cast of comedians that include Jessica Williams, Karan Soni, Nasim Pedrad, Dan Bakkedahl, Martha Kelly, Isiah Whitlock Jr. Calum Worthy and Jennifer Kim. Despite their best efforts, there’s not much life to breathe into this aimless script, but their on-screen camaraderie is often the only thing that help these jokes land.
There have and will be sharp critiques of garbage corporate culture. “Corporate Animals” just isn’t among them. It’s a miserable time in poor company, watching pretty funny actors trade pretty unfunny lines about cannibalism and an abusive lady boss. There are some moments of gross body humor, a drug-induced dream sequence and a terribly unamusing conclusion to this whole enterprise. “Corporate Animals” feels just like the team-building exercises it spoofs, something that should have been shorter and far less tedious in practice.