It’s somewhat surprising, given so many desperate filmmakers’ constant search for new material, that no one’s targeted — for lack of a better word — the Post Office as a narrative source. This particularly applies to the phenomenon known as “going postal;” a stereotypical form of mental breakdown and its resulting terror that’s become so cliched it’s entered the American lexicon. Apparently director Jeffrey Jackson noticed this oversight and decided that what we, the great American viewing audience, really needed was a black comedy drawing from that grand clichŽ of the postal worker going, well, postal.
There are candidates aplenty in “Postal Worker.” At the top of the list lurks Oren Starks (Brad Garrett), a brooding paranoid lug carrying around as many childhood issues as pieces of junk mail in his mailbag. Churning up these old festering wounds to his psyche is a totally one-sided, hopelessly unrequited lusting after his ravishing co-worker Tammy (Grace Cavanaugh).
Not surprisingly, Tammy has a few unresolved issues of her own — eating disorders and violent delusional tendencies revolving around the mysterious disappearance of her husband — though none of this seems to matter to her would-be paramour Harry Cash (Rob Roy Fitzgerald). A seemingly stable co-worker on the surface, content to climb his way up the post office hierarchy, Harry, too, allows his lust affair with Tammy to consume him; leading him down the same potential path to self-immolation Oren seems to be on.
Trying to prevent these three and any of their co-workers from melting down, thus staving off any future post office massacres, is the appropriately named Dr. Brink (Richard Portnow). Through a series of interviews and psychological profiling he’s developed called PEWS, (Postal Early Warning System), Dr. Brink hopes to defuse any stress-related breakdowns amongst the postal employees before they happen.
Perhaps not surprisingly in these troubled times, movies like “Postal Worker” clang badly. Granted, it may not be fair to judge a movie made three years ago by rules that have suddenly and irrevocably been changed. Yet, this film would have been in questionable taste even without the awful recent events.
Still, the folks responsible for “Postal Worker” almost, but not quite, pulled off the nearly impossible: make a palatable black comedy about mass murder. Jackson does succeed in firing off some well-aimed zingers in his scathing indictment of post office operations. Garrett, of “Everybody Loves Raymond” fame, glowers effectively and frighteningly as the pathetic lovelorn Oren while Fitzgerald — Budweiser’s “I love you, man!” guy — serves capably as the film’s punching bag; a sort of Frank Burns in postal blues.
One could argue that it’s simply too soon after the tragedy to laugh at or even appreciate such a dark comedy as “Postal Worker” for what it is. And one would probably be right. But such an argument misses the larger point, because it’s highly doubtful that we’ll ever really be able to derive a chuckle out of similar such wicked comedies in the future. And again, this isn’t Jackson’s fault.
It’s simply that psychotic cinematic killers just aren’t as much fun as they used to be.