Screenwriter Steve Conrad likes his protagonists to suffer a little en route to finding a better place and not in the usual sitcomic ways. He writes distinctive dialogue -- tart, off-kilter, full of odd little details (as in his offbeat script for the Nicolas Cage starrer "The Weather Man" and in the more conventional, true-life tale "The Pursuit of Happyness").
In "The Promotion," Conrad makes his feature film directorial debut. The script is his, narrated by Doug, a mid-level Chicago supermarket employee played by Seann William Scott. His future as manager of a new store is threatened by the new guy down from Canada. His name's Richard, and besides being an ex-motorcycle gang rider and a recovering alcoholic, he has an indeterminate degree of career ambition.
Lili Taylor, always a pleasure) an easily pegged antagonist. If the film disappoints, it's because Conrad doesn't do much to amplify the competitive gamesmanship of the would-be managers.
The wives are defined entirely through their support of their spouses. (Jenna Fischer plays Doug's wife.) Whereas "The Weather Man" had a sharp take-it-or-leave-it edge, "The Promotion" feels a bit softer and narrower in scope. Yet when you see Reilly and Taylor taking salsa lessons to ease their relationship pains, the way Cage took up archery in "The Weather Man," you know Conrad's trying to find new ways to dramatize, even comically, familiar frustrations.
"The Promotion" may not be much, and you get to know that supermarket uncomfortably well by the end of the 85 minutes. But as I say: He's an interesting writer.
"The Promotion." MPAA rating: R for language including sexual references, and some drug use. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes. At the Landmark, West Los Angeles, and ArcLight Sherman Oaks.