Friday March 9, 2001

     Poor Marilyn Monroe. She's barely survived with her dignity intact from some made-for-TV bilge about the Kennedy wives, and she's back for an encore caricature in less than a week's time. Icons never get a day off.
     There are a number of '60s icons that pop up in "Company Man," including the omnipresent John F. Kennedy, Fidel Castro and, most happily, Woody Allen. For reasons of death and other logistical conflicts, Allen is the only one who actually appears (unbilled) as himself, or more accurately, as a variant of the sputtering-schlemiel persona he has marketed during the last four decades.
     "Company Man" is the brainchild of Douglas McGrath (Allen's "Bullets Over Broadway" collaborator), who wrote, directed and stars in this daffy smile-button of a comedy that gently tweaks the Bay of Pigs era. You can see the affinity between the two comic writers. As Allen Quimp, a high school grammar instructor who haplessly winds up in the CIA, McGrath is a WASP-y, prep-school brother in a spiritual fraternity of Woody wimps that would also include Alec Guinness in his "Lavender Hill Mob" period.
     Henpecked, unprepossessing and underpaid, Quimp fakes a career as a CIA agent only to find himself hired by the organization and peremptorily dumped in their Cuban outpost, where he theoretically can do no harm. Naturally, Quimp defies expectations and makes triumphant waves, only to come a cropper when he tries to foil Castro's revolution.
     McGrath shares Allen's nose for serious actors with nimble comic instincts. In addition to Allen, who lifts whatever scene he is in as a kvetchy agent-in-exile, McGrath trots out Sigourney Weaver as Quimp's avaricious wife, Ryan Phillippe as a defecting Russian ballet dancer, Anthony LaPaglia as Castro, Alan Cumming as Gen. Batista, John Turturro as a manic pro-Batista agent and Denis Leary as a turncoat spy.
     We get a sense that McGrath wants this to be his "Bananas," but it's not: His physical shtick lacks the oomph of the early Allen, and his vaudevillian setups fall flat as many times as they hit the mark. Cumming and Turturro are succulent hams, however, and there is one great scene in which Quimp extorts a grammatically correct confession from the traitorous Leary. But too often we feel that left-out-in-the-cold draft that blows over the shoulder whenever actors appear to be having more fun than the audience. What we wouldn't have given to have been a fly on the wall at the first cast reading.


Company Man, 2001. PG-13, for sexual humor and drug content. Paramount Classics and Intermedia Films present, in association with Foundry Film Partners, a Wind Dancer Films/Greenestreet Films production, released by Paramount Classics. Directors Peter Askin & Douglas McGrath. Producer John Penotti Rick Leed James W. Skotchoople. Screenplay by Peter Askin & Douglas McGrath. Cinematographer Russell Boyd. Editor Camilla Toniolo. Costume designer Ruth Myers. Music David Lawrence. Production designer Jane Musky. Running time: 1 hour, 21 minutes. Douglas McGrath as Allen Quimp. Sigourney Weaver as Daisy Quimp. John Turturro as Agent Johnson. Alan Cumming as Batista. Anthony LaPaglia as Castro. Ryan Phillippe as Petrov. Denis Leary as Officer Fry.