Look before you lampoon

Offshore

on May 29, 2009 by Matthew Nestel
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A good premise only goes so far. Such is Offshore ’s dilemma. The tagline entices: a domestic furniture call center outsources operations to India and brass adds insult to injury when the pinkslipped telemarketers must train their replacements. What’s cobbled together in Diane Cheklich’s harebrained feature is a mishmash of desperate clichés and over-the-top depictions of Americans as vile, lazy recalcitrants who gleek racial epithets after each swig from a cheap beer or an oversized coffee mug. All this is glazed behind sophomoric material that’s panhandling for laughs. Not many sorts with thinking caps will turn out for this slanderous shot in the dark.

When a Mumbai call center rep (with a pizza parlor as its sole client) comes to Middle America to pitch Fairfax, a furniture business, its hopes of seizing its customer relations department for a quarter of the cost rests on the shoulders of a flunky named Ajay (Siddharth Makkar). Post-presentation, CEO and antacid addict Derek Abernathy (Marty Bufalini) seems unenthused. Whatever veto powers Abernathy claims resides with the founder’s aristocratic widow are surprisingly employed when she signs off on the deal.
So son makes good and the dismal Indian offices are primed for a technological upgrade that will take them out of the stone ages and into the present, and all ridiculously scheduled to happen in two months. Back in Mumbai, it’s chaos to furnish the office and hire top-notch telemarketers. A trio consisting of former phone sex operator, Reva (Malaika Shenoy), who boasts a “high closure rate” and a couple nerds/team leaders named Anjali (Ratnabali Bhattacharjee) and Nikhil (Neil Bhoopalam) jet to the States to learn about furniture.

News of the jobs shipping to India leads the already anxiety-ridden Americans to exercise a take-no-call mutiny. Their livelihoods and everything as they know it are over. Everybody is feeling raped by these overseas carpet baggers. The folksy training supervisor, Carol (Deb Tunis), yelps such zingers as “Well, we’re American, Pedro!” to the bitter, Indian-American team leader. Leading the charge is Timothy McVeigh look-a-like Mark (Adam Schomer), a foul-mouthed prick who likes to drink Ghetto Blaster beer and takes to assaulting others to retain his cubicle existence.

It’s hard to peg this film as drama because it’s rife with gallows humor. The moment where one of the Indian trainees is commanded to fetch coffee is uninspired. When the assistant HR gal falls for Nikhil, it’s more an attempt to say not all Americans are bad than it is relatable romance. And let’s not forget the subtext—while the American business is selling shoddy prefab furniture, Indians back home build their desks and chairs with their own hands, sans manual or phone support. It’s a subtle jab. To top it off, the casting sure picked quite a harsh-looking ensemble. The American characters are either overweight or hard on the eyes.

Taking it all in, the entire film is lodging an attack at America’s contentious values: a point of view that may be pervading throughout the world. Even if there is some element of truth to this the manner in which the story is told is self-serving. What may have been an attempt to mock white-collar workers backfires. If Cheklich wanted a schoolyard brawl she should have come with more firepower than futile caricature ruses and arrogant belittling. There’s much to pan about this country and its shortcomings but the director has neither the chops nor the talent to touch them. She’s over her head. Moviemakers beware! Watch Offshore as a case study before lampooning a culture for cheap thrills.

Distributor: TMS Universal
Cast: Deb Tunis, Satish Shah, Marty Bufalini, Neil Bhoopalam, Ratnabali Bhattacharjee, and Malaika Shenoy
Director: Diane Checklich
Screenwriters: Diane Cheklich, Peg Bogema and Chetana Kowshik
Producers: Marty Shea
Genre: Comedy
Rating: Unrated
Running time: 92 min
Release date: May 29 NY

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