***/**** Image A- Sound B
starring Timothy Hutton, Lara Flynn Boyle, Dwight Schultz, Oliver Platt
screenplay by Kevin Falls
directed by Tom Holland
by Walter Chaw The Temp borders on brilliant. A thriller from director Tom Holland, he of the "better than they ought to be" Fright Night and Child's Play, the picture plays with corporate and gender politics in a fashion similar to the first half of Mike Nichols's Wolf. Similarly, neither can The Temp hold its centre through to the end, resorting to cheap genre tactics and fright gags where a more faithful treatment of its workplace-paranoia would far better serve the rapier instincts and execution of the rest of the piece.
Peter Derns (Timothy Hutton) is a marketing executive at Mrs. Appleby's cookie company who, after his assistant starts a family (and gets his hand mangled in a paper-shredder), receives a remarkably competent temp in the form of feral Kris (Lara Flynn Boyle). Looking smashing in vaguely inappropriate business suits and possessing a supernatural balance of prescience, sycophancy, and Machiavellian ambition, Kris begins to climb the corporate ladder when unfortunate accidents start claiming first Peter's rivals, then her own. Is Kris behind Mrs. Appleby's unusual run of bad luck, or is Peter relapsing into a recently "cured" anxiety problem.
We first meet a harried Peter upon his discovery that Mrs. Appleby's has been bought out by a large conglomerate with a reputation for replacing the executive staffs of its new acquisitions. Tasked to produce a report by noon the next day, Peter falls asleep on the job only to have his bacon saved by temp Kris; to a rapturous violin score, she declares, "Before you tell your boss that you're not in control of the situation, why don't you let me do my job?" The Temp establishes its politics beautifully: Peter's cookie presentation extols the virtues of a throwback to the halcyon Fifties while Kris's introduction is all sexy house-wear and servile competence. A string of pearls even figures into the June Cleaver-chic before mid-film when Kris evolves from the patriarchy's dreamgirl into a nightmare embodiment of occupational castration.
Holland frames the halls of Mrs. Appleby's as a labyrinth of corridors and darkened office space, inserting into its claustrophobic environs the kind of "wrong man" intrigue favoured by Holland in his previous exercises in pop fright. Played extremely straight by Hutton and with a satisfyingly reserved level of camp by Boyle and Oliver Platt (as a corporate dirtbag), The Temp walks the tightrope of pointed satire for a delirious stretch before being swallowed whole by the great beast known as Faye Dunaway (chewing scenery) and the twisty genre formulas of its conclusion. Most puzzling is that The Temp's ending demonstrates a misunderstanding of what made the rest of the movie work--parable rather than pot-boiler.
While it works, The Temp is a canny office satire buoyed by its above-average cast (also featuring Steven Weber, Maura Tierney, Lin Shaye, and Dwight Schultz), Kevin Falls's gleefully irresponsible script, and Holland's droll timing. It's not a perfect film by a longshot, suffering the most at its lackadaisical finish, but The Temp manages to involve and entertain in a crafty B-movie way even if what it is is only a fraction of what it promises.
Paramount's DVD release of The Temp presents the film in a sharp 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that suffers stray edge-enhancement issues. Overall, the image is bolstered by lush colours and satisfying black and shadow levels. I watched the film in broad daylight and was gratified to no end by the clarity of its climactic intrigue on a visceral (if not intellectual) level. The Dolby 5.1 remix is underutilized save for a closing rainstorm and the fullness of its Herrmann-inspired score (by Frederic Talgorn), with the bulk of information carried by the centre channel. I expected more from a soundtrack of the mid-'90s, frankly, though its digital clarity is well modulated and effective. There are no extras on the disc. Originally published: May 10, 2002.