Demi Moore Is Devilish Charming in Otherwise Stale ‘Corporate Animals’
Just in time for the release of her reportedly juicy memoirs, Demi Moore is practicing the fine Hollywood art of cannibalism in “Corporate Animals.” It’s that kind of comedy where satire is put aside for jokes about gangrene, “getting Weinstein’d” and yes, munching on the dead. It’s almost an indecent proposal for Moore to be in this, as she’s reduced to a ghost of her former self. Yet she’s the best part of the whole cast, bringing an icy, devilish charm to the role.
Moore plays Lucy, the cutthroat CEO of a company that specializes in eatable cutlery, to preserve the environment of course. Seeking to bond her staff through a corporate outing, Lucy drags them to a cave hiking expedition in New Mexico. Among the group are the ambitious Freddie (Karan Soni) and Jess (Jessica Williams), who both hope Lucy will tag them as the new second in command, Billy (Dan Bakkedahl), Derek (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), May (Jennifer Kim) and Suzy (Nasim Pedrad). All seems fine as the group descends into a vast cavern led by tour guide Brandon (Ed Helms). Then an earthquake strikes and a cave-in follows, trapping the whole team. Brandon meets a ghastly death, crushed by falling rocks. As the days go by the staff slowly descend into barbarism and loneliness, with Lucy quickly becoming the focus of everyone’s rage.
“Corporate Animals” is the definition of sophomoric humor. It’s pretending to be another cubicle life satire like “Office Space,” but it lacks the real edge or mischievous intelligence. The premise itself in the screenplay by Sam Bain is funny on the surface, but director Patrick Brice films it in an odd, very shallow tone. Many of the jokes lead to nothing more than just brainless goofiness for its own sake. Some comedies are fine as pure slapstick, but the gags are so obvious, so on the nose or just thrown around with little gusto that it’s rather stale. Because “Corporate Animals” is pretending to be about something, possibly how corporate culture turns people into barbarians. But the message gets lost in rehash. Suzy and May start having sex spontaneously in their own corner of the cave, once dutiful staffer Aidan (Calum Worthy) has a leg wound that starts developing gangrene, the gash even starts singing Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” and Derek and Billy just mope around like the grumpy older guys.
The heart of their saga becomes the story’s angle involving cannibalism. You can only go so many days without food, so of course someone suggests they simply eat the dead guide Brandon. This is also when the film has some of its best lines, like Lucy resisting the calls to eat raw human flesh by insisting they remember the meaning of “team.” Derek reminds her that turned backwards it sounds like “meat.” But a repressively unfair boss like Lucy unsurprisingly has one of Brandon’s arms tucked away in her space. Brice cares not for timidity, there are plenty of shots of stripped bare bones or Jess munching on a body part and admitting, “it’s chewy, definitely chewy.” When another team member starts admitting her lupus is kicking in Derek asks if he can “get an ass cheek.” Suzy has reservations about eating Brandon because it turns out she had sex with him after he visited their offices to arrange the tour. Does it merit a chuckle or two? You decide.
Much of the rest of the plot is a lot of bickering and predictable revelations. It turns out Freddie has been sleeping with Lucy although he claims not always consensually (“you Weinstein’d me!”). Now everyone can confess they all knew and consider him a “human dildo.” It’s the kind of material done better in the hands of someone like Mike Judge, who would have added more zest to the dialogue. It shouldn’t be about the joke in a story like this, but what the joke is attempting to be provocative about. Any biting edge is lost in scenes when Freddie and Billy drink out of an underground lake and start eating lizards which make then trip out. A whole animated, LSD-like sequence is tossed in that goes nowhere except as a quick stoner comedy moment. If you’re going to name the movie “Corporate Animals,” then the filmmaker should stay true to its spirit. “Office Space,” “Horrible Bosses” and even “Fight Club” are memorable because they don’t hold back from what the titles subtly or openly imply. This comedy never goes beyond cheap masturbation jokes (one involving a bracelet charger).
If the movie isn’t a complete bomb it’s because the cast is strong. Here we have SNL’s Nasim Pedrad who recently stole the show in “Aladdin,” Jessica Williams of “2 Dope Queens,” Dan Bakkedahl from “Veep” and Isiah Whitlock, Jr., one of the great modern character actors. They all hover around Demi Moore, who even amid bad writing dominates the scene as the cold Lucy. Moore is malevolent charisma, looking dangerously manipulative even when pretending she didn’t take a bite out of Brandon. There are sparks here of the great capacity for humor Moore always showed in films like “Striptease,” but this production is simply not worthy of her talents.
“Corporate Animals” has the small worth of reminding us why Demi Moore was once atop the Hollywood pantheon. But eating the dead is not where she should be, or any of this notable cast for that matter. Even cannibalism deserves a wittier touch. The premise is there, just not the payoff.
“Corporate Animals” opens Sept. 20 in select theaters.