Office Race should have ideally fallen into the category of forgettable television films you watch to pass the time. But you are in for a surprise with this well-meaning and surprisingly effective comedy. It definitely makes you think twice before dismissing it as just another tacky adult comedy. Office Race is tacky and funny in parts but it is really the film’s dramatic roots that catch your attention.
Joel McHale and Beck Bennett play workplace nemeses Spencer and Pat Cassidy. Office Race revolves around the latter’s sudden awakening from a deep mid-crisis slumber as he finds his “catharsis” in long-distance marathon running. Pat is a run-of-the-mill corporate worker with no purpose or direction in life. He floats on the boat of life without being attached to anything in particular and with a passionate hate for running. Spencer, though, is the exact opposite. He is not only the office hunk, but he is also an avid athlete.
When Spencer gets a promotion over Pat and the latter’s girlfriend cheats with him, Pat finds solace in a marathon run team. He inadvertently becomes a part of the group as Pat’s firm, Aavardak, wants to make a deal with Rita Green’s Greenbelt Energy. Rita is the social glue of the group that keeps them together. What starts off as an unlikeable task to keep the job becomes a life-changing event for Pat.
Office Race has its constraints given it is a television film. The production isn’t grandiose, nor is the storytelling rooted enough to match a full-length feature. But despite the limitations, Office Race’s light-hearted tone and central character study are quite effective. The cast and crew maintain respectable levels of professionalism to give the film a decent look. It never veers into the territory of amateur productions with no head and tail. Director Jared Lapidus allows the rhythm of the script to flow naturally without forcing his comedic sleight of hand.
The film is not overloaded with cheesy one-liners or dated humour that doesn’t tickle your rib, although it does have its fair share. But the brand of comedy is not off-putting or cringe, as is the case with so many genre films these days. The variety of characters on display is admirable. Their behaviour and antics might not be shattering but they do the job without hiccups. Joel McHale is saddled with a lot of responsibility. His tricky job is to make an offensive character not seem that way. And he passes the test with flying colours.
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McHale and Lapidus use Spencer’s innate evil instincts to flip the narrative and make it about a competitive rivalry. His well-rounded portrayal hits the right mark without going over the top. He had the toughest role in the film but navigates it really well. Above everything else, it is Pat’s character arc that makes the essence of the film appeal to viewers.
He is a very relatable and unassuming character. Pat does start off as a very unlikeable protagonist. “Loser” is probably an inappropriate word but an apt characterization for him. His lack of ambition facilitates other symptomatic habits of not caring about anything. And it is not a coping mechanism either. Pat is unremarkable in every sense but his journey of self-discovery is precisely significant for that reason. He finds a sense of community and commitment in the running group to imbue a sweet subplot that becomes Office Race’s highlight.
Bennett gives a solid performance as Pat and his chemistry with Kyle Bunbury is genuinely romantic. He does not have to pull a rabbit out of the hat to play Pat and that is probably why he is so good at it.
The tale of the film is finding shades of redemption in very ordinary things. As viewers, it is easy to dismiss the message if the message does not come in an exciting overall package. But perhaps one must find appreciation for such projects that get the job done in the boring, old-fashioned way.
Office Race is far from a perfect film. It is marred by a flurry of shortcomings in script and conception that are unavoidable in such a setup. But even then, the film makes the most of what it has to give us an entertaining watch.