Ah, corporate team-building exercises — those games and group activities designed to help you and your officemates become a better, stronger, more-productive-in-the-fiscal-year’s-third-quarter squad! Most bosses would settle for organizing a few trust walks or maybe an afternoon of blindfolded egg races and human knots; if you’re Lucy Vanderton (Demi Moore), founder and CEO of Incredible Edible Cutlery, you’re going to kick things up a notch. She’s transported eight of her company’s employees into the desert for a weekend of bonding, including a long hike. Their guide (Ed Helms, in full “Nard Dog” Office mode) suggests the beginner’s route. Lucy wants the advanced course, which includes spelunking: “If we can navigate the deepest cave systems of New Mexico,” she intones, “then we can navigate the challenges of today’s business environment.”
Down they all go, rappelling into a large cavern complete with a lighting set-up and a narrow tunnel to the outside world. A few minor tectonic tremors and one cave-in later, the group unexpectedly finds themselves trapped underground. They have only their wits (ha!), their ability to work together (hahaha!), and a box of sample products to sustain them until help arrives. Within days, of course, everybody, including the boss, has devolved into sniping, starving semi-savages. Desperate times call for desperate measures. That category ranges from exploring where some hidden passages might lead to, y’know, cannibalism. There’s no “I” in team, one character notes, but rearrange the letters and it does spell meat….
The only thing more painful than participating in, say, an “Octagon to Success” with that annoying person from Accounting is watching a satire strain for the right scathing tone, and Corporate Animals expends a lot of energy struggling to find its black-comedy sweet spot. You can tell what it’s aiming for — a take-no-prisoners look at hypocritical New Age business models and how it’s all the same the soul-crushing capitalistic culture (only the buzzwords change). And you can also sense that it falls short of really getting at the heart of its modest-proposal scenario. Far be it from us to slag any film in which someone accusingly yells “Who’s got themselves a nice, little snack-y arm?!” or which features a supporting cast that includes 2 Dope Queens‘ Jessica Williams, Veep‘s Dan Bakkedahl, Baskets‘ Martha Kelly, ex-SNL cast member Nasim Pedrad or the great Isiah “Sheeeeeeeeit” Whitlock Jr. But director Patrick Brice (The Overnight) and screenwriter Sam Bain never quite settle on what the movie is getting at past “when the going get tough, everyone gets ugly.” Not exactly fresh food for thought here.
The one thing this Corporate Animals has going for it — the reason you may wanna plunk down cash to see it regardless — is Demi Moore. Part sideways riff on her (in)famous Disclosure role and part goof on post-Goop crunchy-business gurus, her Type-A, side-eye take on an apex predator rises like a phoenix above the cut-rate misanthropy. “If women can’t be as horrible as men, what’s fucking feminism for?” may read like a cheap-shot line, or worse, on paper; in her reading, it simply crackles. There’s an espirit de corps Moore brings to this wolf in designer, eco-friendly sheepskin clothing that stands apart from the rest of the film. She singlehandedly gives it teeth.