Matthew Lickona 3 p.m., Jan. 20
The live-action directing debut of Mike Judge (creator of Beavis and Butt-head), a feature-length expansion of his series of "Milton" animated shorts. The character of Milton, a flabby mumbling nobody in a five-foot cubicle at a software firm called Initech (Initiative plus Technology equals...), is but a minor figure here, indelibly embodied by Stephen Root in a pair of magnifying-glass spectacles. The central figure is a handsomer and blander presence, Ron Livingston, a dispirited twentysomething who, in clearest contrast to Milton, is a Character You Can Identify With. Judge, while showing no special sensitivity to color, composition, scene construction, or any other fundamental of film directing, nevertheless has compiled a lengthy grievance-list of the petty irritations and indignities of the nine-to-five slog, and he gets it amusingly, if artlessly, off his chest. Gary Cole earns the position at the head of the list, and earns the most and the best laughs in the bargain, as the smooth-talking slave-driver who cushions his bullying in roundabout syntax and lazy rhythms: "Yee-ah, I'm gonna have to go ahead and sort of disagree with you there." (Many of his sentences begin with "Yee-ah" and find room for a "go ahead and" in the middle.) The plot gambit of sending the hero to an Occupational Hypnotherapist, and converting him into a hooky-playing passive resister, a kind of corporate Thoreau, when the therapist expires from a coronary in mid-trance, proves to be a profitable turn, for a time anyway, especially for the series of messages left by his boss on his answering machine, all of them beginning with the word "Yee-ah." The subsequent plot gambit of the hero embezzling funds from the company in cahoots with two laid-off colleagues is no more than a means of reaching feature-length. Slowlier and slowlier. Jennifer Aniston, David Herman, Ajay Naidu. 1999.