Parker Posey on top in uneven "Price Check"

Price Check (2012)
92 min., not rated.

Parker Posey is like a trend that never dies. First hitting her stride in 1995's "Party Girl," which earned her the official title of "the Queen of the Indies," Posey has blossomed into an insanely sharp, larger-than-life comedic firecracker who walks a tight rope without solely being shrill and untamed. Her Susan Felders character in "Price Check" isn't much different from the type Posey is used to playing: she's prickly, sardonic, exclamatory, and erratic. She's ferociously funny, too. But while Posey is a gas, the rest of the movie feels like a disjointed rough sketch (with, not to mention, some rough jump cuts and scene-to-scene transitions). This indie workplace dramedy, the second film from writer-director Michael Walker (the 2000 chiller "Chasing Sleep"), follows a familiar Boss-From-Hell/Work-Sucks formula with some keen observations. It's like a meaner and more honest version of TV's "The Office," but it's no "Office Space," "Horrible Bosses," or even "Clockwatchers" (which earned most of its juice from Posey's attitude-filled turn).

36-year-old Pete Cozy (Eric Mabius), a Dartmouth graduate, works 9 to 5 at a regional Long Island office for a supermarket chain. Giving up his passion in the indie music industry, he works this stopgap job because he has a supportive wife, Sara (Annie Parisse), and a 3-year-old son to feed, and the family has enough debt over their heads as it is. When his boss is replaced, in comes Susan Felders (Posey), a high-energy, mercurial piece of work that gets what she wants. With experience in pricing and marketing for 11 years, she's good at her job but not at living her life. She rattles the employees' cages and puts down Long Island by saying, "It's like the Valley, but the people are pale and yucky." Luckily for Pete, Susan gives him a raise, but also comes over to his house for dinner to meet Sara and then practically invites herself to their son's preschool Halloween party. When Susan promotes Pete and invites him on a business meeting in L.A., they end up getting drunk and she propositions him with, "Why don't you come upstairs and impregnate me?" Her life goals reveal to be more than being a homewrecking hornball. Working in a man's world, Susan likes to be on top, but Pete learns that making his boss happy won't make him happier.

Susan is such a ready-to-crack, in-your-face presence with a psychotic grin that Posey seems born for the role. The actress brings a lot of brash sting and live-wire gusto, but it's not quite enough to carry the story. Set in Our Economic Times, "Price Check" captures the mundane nuts and bolts of supermarket pricing with enough shop talk and the double-edged sword of climbing the soul-sucking corporate ladder. But again, the film never feels like it wants to commit to a specific direction. Is this about Susan or are we supposed to care about Pete and his family? Mabius is sympathetic enough but pretty bland, and it's too bad the amusingly wacky co-workers weren't more vividly drawn. Stand-up comedian Amy Schumer at least gets some laughs as Lila who comes to work for the doughnuts. Things consequently come to a head but not to a place that's as offbeat or trenchant as the lead performance. The movie misses the satirical bull's-eye, butexcuse the awful punPosey shoplifts the whole thing.

Grade: B -