Synopsis: A troubled businessman’s life is upturned after the arrival of a mysterious female temp worker in his office.
Stars: Timothy Hutton, Lara Flynn Boyle, Dwight Schultz, Oliver Platt, Steven Weber, Colleen Flynn, Faye Dunaway, Scott Coffey, Dakin Matthews, Maura Tierney, Lin Shaye
Director: Tom Holland
Running Length: 96 minutes
TMMM Score: (5.5/10)
Review: Tell me if this sounds familiar to you (and if not, humor me). You’re at home, eaten a nice meal, and are ready for dessert. You go to the freezer, get out a batch of ice cream that already has a flavor profile…let’s say, Peanut Butter Cup. Tonight, though, Peanut Butter Cup alone isn’t good enough. You go to your cupboard and add some M&M’s, a few mini marshmallows, maybe some actual peanut butter cups to gild the lily, and then top it off with some chocolate syrup and whipped cream. By the time you’re done, there’s this strange creation in front of you that doesn’t resemble what you started with and when you bite into it…you wish you had just left it alone.
That’s sort of what I feel like when thinking about The Temp, the goofy thriller that came out on my birthday in 1993 and made back just a paltry 1/3 of it’s 15-million-dollar budget. With a strong director (Tom Holland of Thinner & Child’s Play), two Oscar winning actors (Timothy Hutton and Faye Dunaway) and a number of rising stars in its cast, not to mention it’s perfect for the early ‘90s pseudo-suspense set-up, The Temp should have been an easy score for Paramount Pictures. However, if you read up on the film and even just watching it through, you can tell that it’s been royally messed with on its way to release and either maneuvered into the half-hearted attempt it is, or torpedoed from something more sinister which it feels like it wanted to be.
Of all the offices to stage a murder mystery, a cookie company in Oregon would be the last thing I would think of but that’s exactly where screenwriters Kevin Falls and Tom Engleman post Peter Derns (Hutton, Ordinary People) as a divorced dad with anger management issues recently returned to work after suffering a bit of a breakdown. With his company about to be taken over by a larger corporation looking to trim the executive roster as a cost-saving measure, his paranoid nature is back on high alert almost instantly. To make matters even worse, his personal assistant (Scott Coffey, It Takes Three) just left for paternity leave, and he’s left scrambling to please his own boss (Faye Dunaway, Eyes of Laura Mars, wild-eyed and sweat-lipped from the downbeat) with little notice.
He’s not on his own for long, because he’s soon assigned a temporary assistant, the well-educated Kris (Lara Flynn Boyle, Poltergeist III) who time and time again proves to be Peter’s saving grace. There’s clearly some kind of electric connection between the two and whatever flirting goes on between them remains on the up and up. This is especially good considering that when his full-time assistant returns Kris has endeared herself enough to stick around and begins to rise up the ranks of the company rather quickly. So quickly, in fact, that it comes on the heels of a suspicious number of accidents, deaths, and exposed secrets about executives, suggesting that someone on the inside might be making it easy for Kris to have a path forward. Is it Kris herself or someone else with a vested interest in seeing the others around her fail?
In our current era of #MeToo and understanding more about gender politics in the office workplace, The Temp actually becomes an interesting watch through a more experienced lens. I’m sure the movie couldn’t have been written exactly as-is now…but could it remain just slightly altered and be more effective? Possibly. It’s a shame that it seemed to go through so many test screenings and alterations in post-production. The well-known tale is the entire final act was reshot, much to the anger of Dunaway who refused to film certain scenes and to the overall confusion of audiences. What’s there now seems incongruous with the rest of the movie, turning into a half-baked Hitchcock film when it never expressed any interest in being up until that point.
What it had shown some curiously in exploring were a few nasty deaths and Holland’s expertise in building tension as we waited for some bad things to happen to the employees and friends of Peter. (Look for Single White Female’s Steven Weber, Oliver Platt from Flatliners, and Beautiful Boy’s Maura Tierney in the cast as well.) One such incident is bloody memorable even today (two words: Paper Shredder) and if The Temp had been more adventurous in exploring those kinds of shocking moments, perhaps it would have been promoted more in theaters from a box office dud to minor success. It also might have helped Boyle break out more as a film star because while she had notoriety on TV and minor roles in films, leading lady status sadly evaded her. Hutton and especially Dunaway look embarrassed to be in this by the end, but Boyle stands by the movie throughout, which in a strange way works for her character as well.