In "The Promotion," two floor managers who want to be store managers go at it in a pitched battle for a vacant job.
Doug (Seann William Scott) wants the job mainly to help move his wife into the home she's always wanted, and he thinks he's got a clean shot until the supermarket makes a new hire.
Richard (John C. Reilly) is a glad-handing blue-collar guy who's got the common touch that comes hard to the straight-laced, uptight Doug, who begins to see Richard as the only person in a position to spoil his dream.
He works subtly to undermine his rival, but Richard turns out to be no pushover. So begins a war that gradually escalates, perversely bringing out the worst in each man, and yielding a funny scene here and there (Richard has a brutally tough time at a corporate team building retreat).
There are a couple of problems here. The more the men reveal their unappealing sides, the less inclined we are to pull for either. Director Steve Conrad probably counts on the natural likability of Scott and Reilly to make this comedy go down a little easier, but it doesn't always do the trick.
And live-wire Scott, Stiffler from the "American Pie" movies, seems straitjacketing in this role. He sucks up to corporate heavies, and coos with his wife (Jenna Fischer, slightly typecast), but you keep wanting to see him open a beer bottle with his eye socket or something.
Reilly fares a little better as a hard-luck family man (married to Lili Taylor, burdened with a Scottish accent) who is slowly revealed to have a checkered past that Doug is keen to somehow exploit, if he can find a tactful way to do so.
A boffo ending might have helped, but that's clearly not what Conrad is after. He works constantly against the grain, and seems to like sidestepping expectations. It's good when it works, but this movie often feels like it's losing air. *
Produced by Jessica Boriczky Goyer, written and directed by Steve Conrad, music by Alex Wurman, distributed by The Weinstein Co.