Joe Somebody
review by Gregory Avery, 28 December 2001

As Joe Scheffer, the lead character in Joe Somebody, Tim Allen moves through the opening scenes with the pleasant, myopic look and gait of somebody who has already resigned themselves to the fact that they're never going to really amount to much of anything. When somebody says "hi" to him at work, it's most likely directed to whoever's behind him, and he finesses his way past the situation before it can turn into something humiliating. When another person is floundering with putting up a banner, he initially demurs, but his attempts to help them turns out to be less helpful than expected, anyway, and Joe accepts it, too, as part of the norm without becoming ruffled.

Which is not to say that he's turned into a schlub. Joe works creating interoffice computer displays at the headquarters of a huge Minneapolis pharmaceutical company. He has a twelve-year-old daughter, Natalie (Hayden Panettiere), with whom he gets along very well and who is sharp as a tack. (The movies may be getting a little dumber, lately, but some of the kids in them seem to be getting a lot smarter.) When she rides along with him to a "take your kids to work" day, Joe's parking space is swiped by another co-worker, a bully (Patrick Warburton, cast for his burliness), and when Joe protests and tries to rectify the situation, the co-worker strikes him to the ground. Joe ends up challenging him to a fight -- a physical one -- and suddenly everyone at work takes notice of him: he's doing something they've wanted to do for a long time, but didn't. And Joe revels in the attention.

As a whole, the picture seems comfortable to let itself settle into the even, middle ground, for better or worse: there is the feeling, for instance, that the picture is not just out to entertain (which it does) but also to impart some "life lessons" that the audience can take away with them after the picture is over. In the process of getting his self-respect back, Joe turns from a nobody into a someone who wants to be somebody, even if the person he's trying to be may not be the person he actually should be -- not to his daughter, who already respects him, cares about him, and doesn't feel he has to prove anything, or to Meg (Julie Bowen), the pretty human resources person, who doesn't want Joe to turn into a phony with misplaced values (she wants him to be unique, not someone who's "like everyone else"). And never mind that, at most companies, what the co-worker does to Joe would be grounds for instant dismissal: Joe goes through with the preparations for the fight, just so that we can see, right up to the end, whether he'll figure out what we already have determined, that violence doesn't solve anything and, of course, it takes more strength to decide not to get into a fight than to engage in one.

The most middlebrow parts of the film are the ones depicting Joe's ex-wife, Callie, played by the talented Kelly Lynch who, alas, is not well-served in this role: trying to find a reason why Joe has separated from her, Callie is depicted as being "eccentric, meaning, in the film, that she does yoga and frequents restaurants that serve meals made from curd. (She is also shown involved with a theatre group that is putting on some sort of daffy "edible" production of Bertolt Brecht's Baal.). Joe also takes self-defense courses from a character played by Jim Belushi who is a washed-up former action-film star who now runs a martial-arts school. Belushi sort-of leans into the camera in his first appearance, looking terribly bleary, but not to worry: his performance is perfectly fine in the film, and he works very well with Allen.

This is the third film that Tim Allen has made with director John Pasquin (who directed him in The Santa Clause and Jungle 2 Jungle). They seem to work very comfortably together -- Allen performs confidently, and the film itself takes on some of the same easy-going, genuine quality that he has as an actor. It also has a great feel for how huge companies try to put a human face on their hugeness, turning workplaces into "campuses" that ply employees with initiatives to work, feel, and improve themselves (while usually wringing them dry, work-wise). There are also a couple of memorable parodies of pharmaceutical ads that have been invading primetime television, required to list all their possible side-effects while trying to sell you on how wonderful they are.

Tim Allen may not be the most glamorous or showy of performers, but he has warmth and he knows how to connect with audiences in a one-on-one way. He also doesn't stoop too low to get a laugh: his characters may get tripped-up by the indignities that life visits upon them, but they never become totally foolish and they don't play the audience for suckers. He could be anyone who has either thought they've seen their chances in life go by or had to wrestle with an ergonomically-designed office chair or figure out the vagaries of trying to use various unguents to make their hair look good. Beneath the relaxed and affable surface, a spark of greatness may lurk in this performer.

Directed by:
John Pasquin

Starring:
Tim Allen
Julie Bowen
Hayden Panettiere
Kelly Lynch
Patrick Warburton
Jim Belushi

Written by:
John Scott Shepherd

Rated:
PG - Parental Guidance Suggested
Some material may
not be suitable for
children..

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