Making his directorial debut, screenwriter Steven Conrad (who previously wrote The Weather Man and The Pursuit of Happyness) continues his career-long interest in success and self-fulfillment in America with this low-key, witty, observant farce about two rival assistant managers (Seann William Scott and John C. Reilly) vying for a coveted career opportunity at a Chicagoland supermarket. That may risk making The Promotion sound like an unwanted retread of the forgettable Dane Cook/Jessica Simpson comedy Employee of the Month, but despite its gimmicky-sounding premise, The Promotion is, like most of Conrad's work, less concerned with matters of winning or losing than with man's sometimes noble, sometimes deplorable, often futile attempts to distinguish himself from the herd. In his first time behind the camera, Conrad tends to overextend certain recurring gags, but otherwise keeps things on an agreeably modest scale, confining most of the action to his expansive supermarket set (impeccably rendered by production designer Martin Whist) and clocking out before we've hit the 90-minute mark. As to whether a smart comedy about work and family can itself succeed in a marketplace overrun by idiot farces about reluctant bridesmaids (male and female), shotgun Vegas weddings, and finding or losing Mr./Ms. Right...this remains to be seen. Such are the unpredictabilities of life in the checkout aisle.
For the sake of his family, Reilly (right) will dick over Scott.
Opens at Uptown, Fri., June 13. Rated R. 85 minutes.