Stuck in the Middle is my kind of comedy, mixing just the right amount of blasphemy into the proceedings. When loser mail room clerk Michael (Stephen Fontana) learns about auto-erotic asphyxiation while chatting with a friend at the bar, he goes home to try it out. But, like most things in his life, he fails… or maybe he succeeds… and winds up choking himself to death. Instead of the clouds or flames normally expected in a Heaven or Hell, respectively, Michael finds himself in the office setting of Purgatory. And since he’s got special skills as a mail room clerk, that’s precisely the job he’s given upon his arrival.
Besides the office building environment, Purgatory has more going for it than one first expects. For example, being neither Heaven or Hell, denizens of Purgatory tend to unwind after a day at work at the local bar, much like the living office crowd. On top of that, as one of Michael’s bosses (Jeanette Roxborough) shows on a daily basis, profanity is pretty much a given. In other words, Purgatory is a lot like being alive… only you’re dead and can’t leave.
I’m very happy to say that Stuck in the Middle is more than just the novelty of its storyline, and is actually quite funny. Whether it’s the golf-obsessed, Andy Garcia-looking appearances of Jesus Christ (Eric Etebari) or the pranking shenanigans of Michael and the office manager Brooke (Penelope Lagos), the film consistently delivers the funny from whatever angle it can come up with.
The film isn’t always the most impressive visually; art direction and camera composition work together to give a very sparse and empty feel to most environments, but it is less of an issue because, let’s face it, I don’t know what Purgatory looks like? Do you? Empty space might actually make more sense.
Even though the plot is simple, Christ’s new right-hand man (Keith Collins) may not have Purgatory’s best interest at heart and the office has to fight back to protect Purgatory from being closed and its occupants moved to Hell, the film works because it is such an irreverent take on the afterlife. Sure, we’ve seen the afterlife portrayed as an office setting before (Beetlejuice, for one example), but the fact that it is played so normal and disturbed really works to offer a unique flavor.
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