Movie Review: Team building turns terminal for these “Corporate Animals”

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A diverse workforce at an “edible cutlery” start-up are trapped in a cave during a “team building” spelunking expedition in the dark farce, “Corporate Animals.”

As it’s a comedy scripted by the Brit who wrote “4 Lions,”  there is a moment or two that shows potential and a hint of edge. And it was directed by the fellow who found a little ugly in the similarly claustrophobic, characters-in-a-crucible comedy “The Overnight.”

So no matter how thin the laughs and how ugly the messaging can seem, it never comes close to “awful.”

Demi Moore is the delusional dunce who founded “Incredible Edible Cutlery,” “Saving the world, one bite at a time.” She used that to launch a side business based on the “success” of the first — a “Wealth Institute” where you too can learn the secrets of making your mark in business.

Sound familiar?

Lucy is an ignorant, self-absorbed sociopath who uses threats, bullying and lies to get what she wants — including sex — from those under her thumb.

OK, how about now?

Her delusions extend to the caving route she demands her crew’s guide (Ed Helms) test them with on this day trip to the caves and caverns of New Mexico.

She wants “the advanced route,” and ignores the protests of one and all — including the guide — to get it.

“Are you a woman who runs with WOLVES?” she barks at an underling (Nasim Pedrad).

“I’m more of a woman who runs away from wolves…because they can smell the fear!”

They’ve already injured the intern (Calum Worthy) with the first “test” of the day. But what the hell?

No sooner have they crawled into “Cathedral Cavern” than an earth tremor kills the guide and leaves eight employees and their loathesome boss trapped.

Two top lieutenants — played by Jessica Williams and Karan Soni — bicker over a promotion both think they’re getting above ground, and don’t let up much underground. The debate is summer replacement sitcom worthy and requires a laughtrack to fool anybody into laughing along.

Jennifer Kim, Isaiah Whitlock, Jr., Dan Bakkedahl and Martha Kelly fill out this brain trust, which is not convinced by their lying, heartless boss who chirps, “Wake me up when the rescuers get here!”

Some will give themselves over to the sexual attraction they’ve felt but never acted on, some will use this boss-induced calamity to let the rhymes-with-witch know how they really feel. Finger-pointing and name-calling go hand in hand.

Some will hallucinate, with one’s visions involving the star of his favorite TV show and another the singer whose hit “Toxic” starts to apply to his infected leg wound.

All will whine. Not all will survive.

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Each has headlamps, which are no help when you’re groping around in the near-dark, hunting for a funny line.

“You’re looking at me like a turkey at Thanksgiving!”

“What a terrible, delicious thing to say!”

Yes, the movie “Alive” comes up, and “127 Hours.”

The over-the-top moments of conflict and psychotropic visions (animated hallucinations) are the closest “Corporate Animals” comes to finding the funny.

None of the “Let’s consider cannibalism” stuff pays off with laughs. And the film’s reach for satire — a company built on “diversity” grants — hits the ground like a boulder plunging from a cliff. “THUNK.”

Moore, doing a variation of her vile “Disclosure” character from back in the ’90s, makes a fine foil for the others, who only need sharper lines and more inventive situations to give this picture a chance.

Which it never has.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language, sexual content, some gore and brief nudity

Cast: Demi Moore, Jessica Williams, Ed Helms, Karan Soni, Jennifer Kim, Isaiah Whitlock, Jr., Nasim Pedrad, Calum Worthy, Dan Bakkedahl and Martha Kelly

Credits: Directed by Patrick Brice, script by Sam Bain.  A Screen Media release.

Running time: 1:26

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