Set in cookie factory, 'Temp' needs surprise ingredient

February 17, 1993|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

Now brace yourself, but "The Temp" turns out to be about life, death, sex, murder, politics, yearning in . . . a cookie factory!

In fact the novelty of the setting is the film's chief trick and its only original stroke. I can't overstate the sublime subversive pleasure it gives: Workplace movies are, ipso facto, set in glamour industries, like book publishing or law firms or talent agencies or even in Hollywood itself but never in the mundane and workaday world in which the rest of us toil. But now we've gone through the banality membrane: a cookie company!

In all other respects, "The Temp" is somewhat standard issue assistant-from-hell stuff, as descended from the original understudy-from-hell masterpiece "All About Eve." In this one, promising but terminally disheveled cookie executive Timothy Hutton is rescued from career crises 1-15 (no receipts, dying plants, badcoffee, a tendency to "forget" meetings) by ravishing temporary secretary Lara Flynn Boyle, of "Twin Peaks" fame.

Boyle, under the perky all-American name of Kris Boyles (I love the cute K) uses him to get into the cookie mainstream and herself rise, by hook or by crook, by chip or by nut, to the top of cookiedom. People who stand in her way keep having nasty accidents. First loving and then fearing her, Hutton seems always a step behind. Really, is there any mercy in this world for a man who keeps losing his expense account receipts?

Nearly everybody involved in the movie appears to be having a good time, and I suspect that most of the men who get to spend 90 minutes in the dark with Lara Flynn Boyle, even if she is on screen and they are not, will have a pretty good time. I know I did.

Alas, what "The Temp" needs desperately it never gets. That it's shamelessly derivative is not an axiomatic flaw; but what it needs is an astonishing twist, something that turns genre expectations completely on their ear, something that sets it moving down a new road (as in "The Crying Game.") But no; director Tom Holland is content to squander his amusing setting and some good performances as he thunders bouncily down well-rutted paths, to nowhere we haven't been before and no placewe want to go again.

Hutton isn't so bad; Boyle is Boyle and what more can be said? Faye Dunaway does a restrained reiteration of her "Network" huntress number as the No. 1 cookie (actually, it's a pie place, moving exploratively into cookie land, like conquistadors on a new continent). The ever-interesting Steven Weber is interesting, ever, as Hutton's slightly sleazy best friend. In fact, everybody's good, but the movie still feels store-bought and stale.

That's the way it crumbles, cookie-wise.

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