Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

Opening with a song by Dan Bern entitled Strongly Worded Memo (choice lyric: "Watch me italicise freely"), and set entirely amid the water dispensers, photocopiers, supply closets and conference rooms of 'cubicle land', Drones might at first seem yet another satire on the indignities of the white collar workplace – yet unlike the tyrannical bosses depicted in Nine To Five (1980), Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), Office Space (1999), and of course television's The Office, Omnilink's regional manager Peter (James Urbaniak) displays an otherworldly concern for his employees' wellbeing as much as their productivity. Here the banalities of office life may be lampooned, but they are also ultimately celebrated, both as a force for gradual progress and a microcosm for the petty struggles of the known (and unknown) universe.

In the film's first scene, Peter addresses his assembled workforce with an inspirational PowerPoint presentation, in which he likens them at length to insect drones. This analogy soon becomes hilariously overextended – in a film where the literal and the metaphorical readily blur – but Brian (Jonathan M Woodward) is certainly content with his status as a 'noble bumble bee', not even complaining about having worked without promotion for Omnilink longer than anyone else still there.

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Brian's perky lunch partner Clark (Samm Levine) also takes great pride in his work, as does kooky Amy (Angela Bettis) across the corridor (her IM tag: 'Amyismynamey') and the impossibly good-natured hippy Cooperman (Dave Alan). These corporate drudges may occasionally have their differences, but they are all at least united in their antipathy towards the company's shift from a chronological to an alphabetical database.

If, however, offices can at times be places of dehumanising alienation, then some of Brian's colleagues also turn out to be genuine extraterrestrials, plotting hostile takeovers and even destructive asset stripping of not just Omnilink, but the whole planet. Just as well, then, that one of the main lessons instilled by Peter is that "the buzz of a job well done" rests in "reaching out, keeping cool, and interacting with others".

Amber Benson and Adam Busch's Drones may be slight, but that low-key triviality is an essential part of its humour, as office politics take on cosmic dimensions without ever seeming any the less drab for it, and the enslavement, destruction and salvation of Earth itself are presented as competing bureaucratic projects to be managed with maximum efficiency. While Brian may look forward with mild excitement to a 'star war', for his colleagues, human and alien, it is really just another day at the office, in a galaxy far, far away from the whizzbang spectacle of a George Lucas epic.

One blink-and-you'll-miss-it scene involving Clark communicating with his 'guys' in the stationery room, and another in which Cooperman attempts to blow out some candles on a cake, constitute just about the entire SFX budget of the film. What instead carries this sci-fi satire are the delicious deadpan of the performances and dialogue (by writers Ben Acker and Ben Blacker) that both perfectly capture - and defamiliarise - the artificial bonhomie and strained eccentricity that makes up any workspace.

The only flaw in Drones is its need, around the halfway mark, to convert high concept into a neatly packaged narrative – for the film is at its best when being drily observational, and loses something of its free-floating originality as soon as it gains a plot. It is as though for the viewer, as much as for the pen-pushing Brian, an imminent apocalypse is just another hiccup to distract from the everyday realities of the working week – realities that prove to have long since been infiltrated by the surreal, without anyone noticing the invasion.

Reviewed on: 03 May 2010
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An office worker discovers one of his colleagues is an alien.
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Director: Amber Benson, Adam Busch

Writer: Ben Acker, Ben Blacker

Starring: Jonathan M Woodward, Angela Bettis, Samm Levine, James Urbaniak, Tangi Miller, Marc Evan Jackson, Dave Allen, Paul F. Tompkins, Kevin Ford, Adam Busch, Simon Dasher, Elizabeth Faith, Amy Gillespie, Janie Haddad, Destin M. Hebert

Year: 2010

Runtime: 99 minutes

Country: US


Sci-Fi 2010

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