The Promotion is a fairly unblinking look at modern American life, and it sneaks up on you with a superbly balanced mix of comedy and drama. It was written and directed by Steve Conrad, who also wrote The Pursuit of Happyness and The Weather Man. This movie may be less sentimental than those films on the surface, but, like Judd Apatow's best films, the four-letter words and squirm-inducing comedy actually hide a surprisingly well-intentioned heart. Scott -- now a little older than when we met him in the American Pie films and finally believable as a grown-up -- gets to actually play a character here (unlike his lesser roles in lesser films), and he's a real pleasure to watch, portraying Doug's frustrations and dreams with a real, rich sense of humanity and deadpan comedy. Reilly is equally impressive. Richard initially seems a little dopey and goofy, but in time, Reilly's performance and Conrad's script bring Richard to life as an equally complicated striver. Both men dream of making the jump from assistant manager to manager -- and, by extension, from short-sleeves to long ones.
Part of The Promotion's satire is in how far Doug and Richard are willing to go in the name of seemingly miniscule advancement; at the same time, it's clear that the promotion would truly change things for the better for each man. Both Doug and Richard are capable of doing things they aren't proud of, and it's a tribute to Conrad's script that we get to glimpse their struggles and self-judgment peeking through comedy that, while it earns big laughs, never feels too broad or showy. Conrad isn't afraid to talk about sticky topics, either -- race, class, and corporate America all come up in The Promotion, and there's some food for thought among the gags.