To call Ryan Reynolds smug doesn't do justice to his noxious lead performances in lowbrow trash like National Lampoon's Van Wilder and the new comedy Waiting… Presiding with an almost regal superiority over the crude proceedings, Reynolds acts as a kind of creepy joke-processing machine, imputing straight lines and outputting punchlines with steely efficiency. Had Val Kilmer's character in Real Genius been played by a smirking pod person, he'd be a lot like Reynolds in Waiting…, a sophomoric hunk of raunch from American Pie producer Chris Moore, who has finally given frat boys their own Barbershop. There's real potential in the premise of young, unmotivated screw-ups logging time at a dead-end restaurant job—a hash-slinging Office Space, basically—but first-time writer-director Rob McKittrick makes it look like a homemade sitcom laced with profanity.
Photographed with all the precise mise en scène of a surveillance camera, the film takes place almost entirely at Shenaniganz, a second-rate Applebee's cluttered with stoplights, quirky signs, and other assorted bric-a-brac on the walls. On a slow night, the wait-staff and kitchen crew spend much of their downtime playing pranks, with each of the guys trying to trick his co-workers into staring at his genitals. (Luis Guzmán, relaxed and funny as always as a foul short-order cook, excels at this maneuver.) Though everyone is divided into distinct camps—the unsanitary chefs, the suburban gangsta busboys, the lesbian bartender, and an assortment of flirty or dysfunctional waiters—their collective hatred of customer service gives them some esprit de corps. McKittrick introduces a wisp of a plot involving Justin Long, a solid waiter who squandered his chance at higher education in order to tread water at the restaurant with best friend Reynolds, but a possible promotion to assistant manager brightens his prospects.
In its few bright moments, Waiting… gets some laughs from the tense détente between ornery customers and the wage slaves who have to bottle their rage in order to serve them. Naturally, all that hostility spills out behind the scenes, where they either take revenge (as in a truly disgusting plate-desecration scene) or blow off steam by talking trash and goofing off. Were the dialogue funnier and the characters more endearing, the film's total lack of forward momentum would be a winning quality, leaving plenty of time for the offbeat observations of a filmmaker who knows the restaurant milieu well. But with Reynolds cast as the ringleader, the jokes are mostly about dicks, pubes, urine, and other humiliating adventures below the equator. Yet if this film can convince people never to eat at Applebee's, Friday's, or Chili's again, perhaps it's serving a higher social function after all.