One of the most damaging side effects of the current economic downturn, at least in the film business, is that a lot of the smaller films, often with a B level star as the lead, are utterly doomed. They used to get limited releases, opening in larger cities, and then if it made a breakthrough, it would move on to larger markets. Now, with situations like with Paramount Vantage shutting down, leaving more than a year’s worth of releases on the shelf, and Paramount dumping them without advertising, often cutting them down to 90 minutes or less to run more times a day during the sole weekend they are likely to play. The Marc Pease Experience was a perfect example, it’s been so gutted as a movie that it’s impossible to tell what the original intentions were, and Paramount certainly isn’t going to spend on DVD extras to have them explained to us.
Mike Million’s Tenure has been similarly abandoned; the production company behind it, Blowtorch Entertainment folded in July, leaving a movie on its last festival legs to die. It may have just played at the Philadelphia Film Festival, but Tenure has a moldy smell to it, the script has a very late 1990s feel. It’s not just the casting of Luke Wilson as another in a long line of his mumbly, middling characters that renders Tenure dated, but the whole notion of a movie, in this case about a journeyman college professor seeking tenure at a nothing college, that has so few ambitions and such low energy is very much of that era. There’s a reason Wilson felt so perfectly cast in Mike Judge’s Idiocracy, as the world’s most average man, he expressed exactly what Judge excels at, a sort of inspirational indifference.
Not that Tenure even approaches the level of Idiocracy, that would require a notion of humor that expands beyond the re-occurring joke that Wilson’s professor character is accused of not lifting the seat when he pees in the staff bathroom. Never mind that it’s hard to imagine a person who uses a public bathroom who doesn’t look at the seat first before sitting down (the implication in Tenure is that the female professor was covered in his urine). Then there’s David Koechner’s character, whose classes are apparently entirely comprised of looking for Bigfoot. Koechner plays the whole thing like he’s in a cartoon (including his ideas of revenge against the faculty for not giving him tenure), but everyone else in the movie treats him like he’s just a tad eccentric, even the unfunny subplot where he stoops to selling erection pills by the box.
At least when Wilson gets involved with worrying about such a stimulus package, so to speak, and he has all the pills in the back of his car, we don’t get the sitcomy scene where they’re discovered and he’s embarrassed in front of his peers. But that’s about the only time that Tenure avoids sitcom contrivances, the lengths that Wilson goes through to find a date for a dinner at his tenure rival’s house (Gretchen Mol, playing her blondness for as much awkward and insecure as she can muster) in a sequence that re-defines the word strained. The one laugh that Tenure offers, where a wheelchair bound veteran is forced to retrieve the rolls of toilet paper covering his trees, hints at the dark and mean places that the movie could have gone, but Million only appears interested in mush, exemplified by a torturous subplot where Wilson’s dad, played by Bob Gunton, is confined to a nursing home by his overbearing daughter, despite how spry and independent he is.
As you can see Tenure doesn’t just share distribution issues with The Marc Pease Experience, it’s also as much of a tonally unfocused dead zone of a movie too. It’s as if Million only settled on the title of Tenure because he was afraid that A bunch of scenes that don’t go anywhere: The Movie! wouldn’t fit on a marquee.