In the do-nothing position of vice president of human resources at his in-laws' bank, Bill is "in charge of making sure everything runs smoothly." Not rocking the boat is slump-shouldered Bill's specialty, as he passively endures daily humiliation. His job is a humdrum corporate coffin, his wife, Jess, is suspiciously friendly with local news anchorman Chip Johnson and his father-in-law is pressuring him to mentor students at his old prep school.
Bill numbs his pain by snarfing down chocolate bars and dreaming of opening a doughnut franchise that will make him financially independent. But his life is jump-started when a preppie con artist from the mentorship program makes it his mission to guide Bill through his identity crisis.
Many comedies feature an underdog tenaciously struggling against hardship. There's something innately appealing about a persistent little guy with the confidence to keep trying. "Meet Bill" misfires on multiple levels, but its foremost mistake is focusing on a sad-sack underachiever. Bill doesn't believe in himself, so why should we?
Cast against type, Aaron Eckhart plays Bill as a cringing milksop, ample gut waterfalling over his waistband, lank hair straggling lifelessly across his brow. With so little self-esteem, no wonder this dork's life is a mess. Doormats are more assertive. By the time this ugly duckling becomes a toned, well-coiffed eagle in the last reel, only viewers who have been lashed to their chairs will still be watching.
Written and co-directed by Minneapolis native Melisa Wallack with her husband, "300" producer Bernie Goldmann, the film continually opts for middle-of-the-road mediocrity. Bill's teenage life coach, known only as the Kid (Logan Lerman), is a wisecracking horndog straight from a cable sitcom. When he persuades a pretty lingerie salesgirl named Lucy (Jessica Alba) to pose as Bill's girlfriend, you can smell the upcoming stew of mistaken identities a mile off.
With two first-time directors, the performances are all over the lot. Eckhart does big, blinky double-takes. Elizabeth Banks, who plays his straying wife, delivers the kind of perky-on-autopilot performance usually seen in furniture polish commercials. Alba smiles and widens her glassy eyes at whatever actor is placed before her, exactly as she has done in every other role.
Only Kristen Wiig as a wary doughnut executive and Craig Bierko as Bill's supportive brother find much comic potential in their cardboard-cutout roles. Her sly passive-aggression could light up a reading of the Little Rock Yellow Pages. Wiig had walk-on roles in half of last year's comedies. Isn't it time for her to star in something? Or at least cameo in something better than "Meet Bill"?
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186