Jameel Khan’s comedy The Strip, opens in theaters this weekend. “The Strip” refers to a nondescript fictional Chicago strip mall – specifically the employees of a knockoff electronics store called Electri-City – who mostly waste away their days, while quixotically pursuing their individual aspirations…or try to figure out just what those aspirations might be.
While I enjoyed the premise of The Strip – whose characters take us inside the monotonous world of working at a strip mall – writer/director Khan’s execution failed to draw me in beyond my initial curiosity.
As the story begins, Electri-City’s manager Glenn (Dave Foley) – a “company man” who’s proud to have worked his way into his position by the age of 33 – is hopelessly attempting to motivate his disinterested employees with childish team building exercises. He is, at least on the surface, content with his life. That is until he becomes spellbound by the new manager of Sheila’s Fabric across the way.
Meanwhile Rick (Cory Christmas), the former high school basketball star-turned-star-electronics-salesman, is basking in the glory of receiving yet another “Salesman-of-the-Month” award. Of course, he’s just bidding his time while pursing his television acting career.
Then there’s college-educated Kyle (Rodney Scott), whose career path has been well planned by his father. He is being groomed to run no less than two Electri-City locations – a prospect that he dreads more and more each day.
Avi (Federico Dordei) on the other hand – who has come to the U.S. to improve his life – is perfectly happy with his dead-end sales position at Electri-City. In his mind, he’s working his dream job and now he’s preparing for his traditional arranged marriage. When he discovers how beautiful his fiancée is however, he begins to fill himself with self-doubt.
And finally, Jeff (Billy Aaron Brown) coasts through life doing as little as possible, making the low-traffic Electri-City the perfect store to have a sales position. Having recently been dumped by his girlfriend he has taken up residence in his van. He finds a glimmer of hope when his manager Glenn takes him into his home. However, a run-in with his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend prove too much for him to handle.
As their lives are played out in astonishingly simple and well-worn fashion, The Strip takes far too long to show its love for its characters, the main attraction of the film, featuring strong performances from actors that had very little to work with. But then again, I’m thinking at least part of this could have been intentional on the part of the director, in order to pointedly show the blandness of the lives they’re forced to endure at Electri-City.
The character study shows some signs of life towards it’s climax, with Glenn’s life quickly starting to unravel, as he attempts to impress the new manager next door with a basket of knock-off electronics, and his stagnant relationship with his wife comes to a crescendo when Jeff finds consolation in her arms. Meanwhile Kyle begins to see how stale his life is, when he’s beguiled by the beautiful Melissa, as wanna-be thespian Rick continues to see failure as an actor, and Avi goes through great lengths to make a good impression on his future bride to be.
Sound familiar? It should. Variations on this story have been told in Office Space and many other films. But what it really came down to was execution. I’ll give Jameel Khan an A for effort, but the interwoven storyline just doesn’t get tangled enough for me.