You probably don’t think about this often but there is such a thing as a gonzo ensemble cast. They show up every now and then in the weirdest places and feature a near-endless stream of celebrity cameos and co-stars. It’s the very nature of Stephen Soderberg’s Ocean’s franchise. Woody Allen has done a few where just about everyone in Hollywood shows up and there’s a really awful comedy called Burn Hollywood Burn that does the same thing and this is just to name a few. This is a favorite tactic of an over-indulgent studio system or some kind of vanity project of the Producer from Hell who can make a dozen phone calls a day to get a dozen a-listers in their latest picture to detract from the glaring fact that their picture has about twenty pages of script, five pages of comedy and not a single funny joke or compelling relationship. Lately it’s been happening in Hollywood comedy circles where it looks like just about every stand-up cum actor has unionized and are routinely showing up on TV and movies. It seems like there isn’t a comedy from the last five years that doesn’t feature Craig Robinson in at least a walk-on role. Seems like every time you turn out to some funny picture, Paul Rudd and Jonah Hill show up and you find Seth Rogen’s name in the Associate Producer credits which may indicate that he lost a crucial hand of Hold ‘Em and had to con some of his buddies to be in Movie X that was produced by a friend of Judd Apatow’s cousin. Do you see what I’m getting at?
Don’t get me wrong. These are not my usual harshly critical words of condemnation. A lot of the time, these unionized comedy free-for-alls turn out to be pretty funny and a lot of contemporary comedy features a kind of sophistication that you couldn’t find in comedies produced post-Ghostbusters. It’s just that it’s my job in this place to make sweeping generalizations about the state of things and fill this space as a sort of preamble to the review. If you’ve been here long enough, you know that that’s pretty much how things have gone since day one. I actually got wise to Operation Endgame after Todd Rigney’s capsule review spoke highly of it over at one of my longest-running niche review corners, The Film Fiend. He saw something in it that I must have missed but if it weren’t for Rob Corddry, I might not even be considering a second viewing much as I am now. Read on.
The Factory is a sub-agency of American intelligence that specializes in false flag operations and assassination. It’s a small group of unlikely operatives who have been separated into two smaller groups. Each group acts to keep the United States’ grasp on power firm, but they routinely act against one another to make sure that neither goes too far and destablizes everything. The reason for this is that each operative is a severely unbalanced psychopath that doesn’t know when to stop. Each one, named after a card in the Tarot’s Major Arcana acts under the supervision of The Devil and when The Devil winds up murdered during the inauguration of President Obama, the Factory’s last operation goes into effect, pitting each member of The Factory against one another while a timer counts down to the point where napalm will fill the building and burn the entire organization out of existence.
Remember what I was saying about gonzo ensemble casts? Well, this bitch has everybody. There’s a bunch of folks that I don’t recognize, obviously, but a large group of people who have shown up on The Daily Show, The Office, Arrested Development, etc., plus Ving Rhames. Leading the pack is Rob Corddry who pretty much floats the entire picture with his role as a burned out government killer who drinks heavily and spews some of the most morbid obscenity laden threats I’ve seen. He also grinds a man’s face off with the business end of a paper shredder.
See, Operation Endgame is a cross between a spy farce and an office comedy. Since the movie doesn’t deal with the exotic locales or intrigue of your average Bond flick, it plays out more like a mashup of Austin Powers and Office Space, playing down the camp and spoof and playing up the savage banality of paperwork and office policy. Add a series of brutal confrontations where whatever office supplies laying around substitute for weapons, since all weaponry is forfeit on your way into The Factory, and what you get is a fairly original comedy that’s bloody as hell and occasionally bogged down by some bad characterization and acting. Though Corddry, Bob Odenkirk and Zack Galifianakis make this picture their bitch, you’re left to deal with a sour protagonist whose twist you can see coming a mile away, some typically tough-but-sexy cliches and LOST’s Emilie De Ravin with an awful Southern accent approximation and a giddy/psycho combination that works for Harley Quinn but fails in a real-world application.
Start out with a mostly funny script and combine it with a small-time indie style action movie production similar to any direct-to-video actioner that followed in the wake of Boondock Saints and stock it with some of today’s best comics and you wind up with Operation Endgame, an unsteady action movie that is remarkably violent and packed with comedy that works only some of the time. I doubt we’ll ever see Rob Corddry in a series of intricate and well-paced action scenes ever again but his performance as a hard fighting, whiskey-swilling killing machine is surprising and entertaining enough to make me wish we had a whole movie about just that guy instead of this awkward whodunnit chess match. While it’s certainly a worthy view, it has its share of fundamental issues common to both low-budget action movies and comedies. If anything it proves a couple of things: that Rob Corddry is probably going to kick ass in Adam McKay’s adaptation of the sweet Garth Ennis comic, The Boys and that for her age, Ellen Barkin is still pretty fucking hot.