Thursday, December 18, 2008

Memron (Crewless Productions, 2004)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The film Charles and I eventually watched last night was Memron, a 2004 spoof whose title and capital-“M” logo clearly marks it as a spoof of Enron, though interestingly, director and co-writer (with Robert Stark Hickey) Nancy Hower doesn’t make it a spoof of Enron itself, but the aftermath of the Enron collapse, with CEO Ken Clay (Michael McShane, a bulbously obese and repulsive screen presence who’s exactly right for the role even though it’s hard to imagine anything else he can play besides a fallen fat-cat CEO) serving six months of a 10-year sentence and basically playing a combination of baseball and golf in the prison exercise yard — he hits golf balls with a club, but his guards are forced to field them like baseballs — before he’s released and placed under house arrest. Most of the dramatis personae are the flotsam and jetsam of Memron who found themselves suddenly unemployed and bereft of their life savings when the company imploded — though Clay maintains a skeletal operation and sends his principal assistant, Justin Zimmerman (David Wiater), into the unemployed workers’ meetings as a spy.

The workers themselves are in a seminar called “Where’s Your Parachute?” (a quite wicked play on the book title What Color Is Your Parachute?, the book that purports to help you treat unemployment as an empowering experience) that’s held in a grade-school classroom and is a humiliating experience for all parties concerned. When the workshop leader challenges them to explain in plain English just what they did in their former jobs at Memron, they’re unable to do so without lapsing into human-resources jobspeak! Among the fired are Bruce Corning (Jeff Hayenga), a disgusting go-getter type with a penchant for turning his hand into a model of Puff, the Magic Dragon that sickens everyone he does it for, adults and children alike; Shelley Johansson (Mary Pat Gleason), heavy-set middle-aged woman who’s Corning’s principal victim; Tamara (Susan Saunders), basket case with a penchant for getting into weird scrapes with the law; Janet Kelso (Shirley Prestia), rail-thin, of indeterminate age and closed-in crabbiness; and the closest thing this movie has to a truly pathetic figure, Jim Westerfield (Chris Wells), who’s sleeping in his car because he can’t afford to maintain a home for both himself and his mother (Pat Crawford Brown), and who in what little he has of a private life gets bossed around not only by mom but also by his layabout brother Donald (Joey Slotnick). Jim also lusts after the Memron office slut, Brenda Wright (a marvelous performance by Evie Peck) but can’t bring himself to ask her for a date even though just about every other male in the movie (including, in the film’s most bittersweet sequence, Jim’s hated brother Donald) is able to get into her pants just by looking at her.

Memron is a film largely hamstrung by its budget limitations — director Hower called her production company “Crewless Productions,” and though actually does list some crew members for the film it does have the look of a sole filmmaker with a video camera following her actors around and getting the scenes down as best she can. Still, she gets some great gags — notably out of ex-CEO Clay’s predicament when (after making telephonic assignations with her lover in Italian, her native language but one he doesn’t understand a word of) his trophy wife Vangelia (Claire Forlani) walks out on him and he tries to chase her but can’t because every time he steps off the sidewalk outside his house, the beeper of his house-arrest ankle bracelet goes off and alerts the cops. Hower and Hickey also come up with a great spoof of capitalism run rampant when the ex-Memronites come up with a new business idea — bottling and selling air — and there are some great scenes of them trying to collect the stuff at various beaches, then attempting to figure out a way to bottle it as well as working out an ad campaign to get people to pay for air instead of getting it free (the slogan they come up with is “Air … It’s the Next Big Thing”), trying to run the business out of Jim’s mother’s garage (no one else was willing to rent to them and even Jim’s mom won’t let them into her house, not even to use the bathroom!) and ultimately seeing their idea get stolen by Ken Clay and Justin Zimmerman, who use it to revivify Memron and get back on top again while their ex-employees are once again left in the dust.

Memron is less a spoof of Enron than of capitalism in generally and specifically the “unemployment industry” vividly exposed by Barbara Ehrenreich in her book Bait and Switch (at times the film seems almost a deliberate spoof of her book, even though it came first!), and with the economy totally melting down these days some aspects of Memron seem both more funny and more grim than they probably did in 2004, when the shady and downright illegal business practices of Enron seemed like just the sins of a handful of companies instead of the capitalist system as a whole — and the fact that Hower and Hickey chose to advertise their film with the tag line “The Trickle-Down Has Trickled Out” seems to indicate that their satirical agenda encompassed more than just one bad company!