Monday, August 13, 2018

It's Cookie Time

Has any chunk of pop culture made in the last 30 years aged more weirdly than mid-'90s sexy corporate thrillers? I say this with all the affection in the world. 

Quick Plot: Peter is a high level marketing manager at a cookie company with a little darkness in his past. Estranged form his wife (a young and banged Maura Tierney) and son due to some "Mr. Hyde"-esque behavior, he's now focused on climbing the corporate ladder with a new plan to relaunch oatmeal raisin cookies. He'll have to work his damnest to impress his boss Charlene, played by Faye Dunaway with the exact level of business aggressiveness you'd come to expect. 

His work day takes a turn when his assistant has to exit for maternity leave, opening up a new position for the titular temp. Enter Lara Flynn Boyle in full '90s working girl fashion as Kris, a way-too-good-for-her-job secretary who immediately drops Lady MacBethian vibes all over the workplace. 

Before you can boil a bunny, higher level employees standing in Peter's way begin dropping like flies (or rather, Chekhovian wasps stinging highly allergic Oliver Platts). Meanwhile, Kris continues to impress the rest of the office and find her own name on the shortlist for VP. What's a hotheaded yuppie businessman to do?

The answer to virtually any late '80s to mid-'90s thriller is to get sweaty, tear at his floppy hair, and watch his comfortable existence slip away as his sexier rival gets what she's been working far harder for...until, inevitably, the moral patriarchal majority decides she needs to be punished.

Directed by Child's Play and Fright Night's Tom Holland, The Temp is a the definition of "product of its time," right on down to its muddled re-shot ending which leaves a HUGE plot hole or asks its audience to believe that Kris has insanely high faith in her former boss-turned-rival's ability to drive like a Nascar champ on a mountaintop highway. More importantly, this, THIS, was the initial climax:

As originally shot by director Tom Holland, the climax showed Peter (Timothy Hutton), a young company executive, inside the bakery fighting for his life with the temp (Lara Flynn Boyle). Hutton's character is dipped in dough, sent to the sugar room, falls onto a conveyor belt and finds himself heading straight at the "whopper chopper." They go into the chopper and as he desperately tries to drag himself out, she grabs his leg, the chopper comes down and cuts off her hand. The last we see of the temp, she is sliding toward the cookie oven--Source. 

I mean, why even set your film in a corporate cookie landscape if you're NOT going to incorporate a deadly Child's Play 2-esque factory chase in a violently robotic bakery setting? More importantly, why cast the (admittedly complicated) goddess that is Faye Dunaway if you're not going to make up your mind on her own trajectory until a weekend before opening?

It's a letdown, but in fairness, this remains a movie where a character roadblock is dispatched of via a carefully curated paper shredder accident. It's hard to fully pan such a flick, especially when it also gives us Lin Shaye as an embittered veteran secretary and, you know, Faye Dunaway at Network level intensity but constantly saying the word, "cookies."

High Points
Like many, I remain an extreme sucker for some early '90s corporate fashion, and a documentary (probably more riveting than this) about Lara Flynn's Boyle hair skills could have been Oscar-worthy

Low Points
Confused ending aside, the real shame of The Temp is that much like Fatal Attraction, it squanders its best asset by constantly undercutting her motives. Kris is smart, sexy, and resourceful, and occasionally, the script allows her to make genuinely deep and ahead-of-their-time comments about how she's learned to master the game on such an uneven playing field. A movie about her would have been far more interesting than an unexceptional white male protagonist trying to balance his middling career skills with his libido

Lessons Learned

In the '90s, everyone wanted to go back to the '50s

Much like hot air, success rises to the top

The birthing process is like an NBA game: nothing happens until the last two minutes

In case you haven't figured it out, you can cram a LOT of similes into your corporate speak in the first five minutes of your film

The Temp is available on HBO Go, which makes sense considering it's the kind of middling thriller that would have aired in rotation with The Hand That Rocks the Cradle throughout 1994. It's worthwhile as a product of its time in both a fascinating and frustrating way, but only those with a serious interest in that area need queue it up. 

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