Opens at Bellevue Galleria, Fri., Jan. 4. Not rated. 95 minutes.
Imagine Marty if Marty had turned out to be the Unabomber and you'll have the gist of writer-director Frank Cappello's oddly compelling, pitch-black comedy, which takes its title from the news media's de rigueur description for every unassuming clock-puncher who one day decides to mow down a few co-workers in a hail of bullets. Here, that "quiet man" appears to be one Bob Maconel (Christian Slater), a midlevel drone at a nondescript L.A. tech company who spends his days as a punching bag for the office's golf-playing alpha males, his lunch breaks fantasizing about blowing the place to smithereens, and his lonely evenings engaging in philosophical chitchat with his pet goldfish (who, via some clever CGI animation, answers back). But when Bob uses the loaded gun in his desk to stop another deranged colleague in the midst of his own killing spree, everything changes. Soon, he's moving on up to the executive suite, attracting the come-hither stares of women who'd never so much as look in his direction before, and entering into a hesitant courtship with the quadriplegic near-victim (Elisha Cuthbert) whose life he saved only to have her ask him to finish her off. Cappello, who wrote the early-'90s Hulk Hogan comedy Suburban Commando and the recent Keanu Reeves blockbuster Constantine, traffics in some of the same themes of emasculation and rage against the corporate machine already well-traversed by Falling Down, Fight Club, Office Space, et al. But He Was a Quiet Man casts its own perversely funny spell thanks in large part to Slater, whose wonderfully shifty, beaten-down performance is easily his best in the 17 years since Pump Up the Volume. Indeed, he digs so far under Bob Maconel's acne-prone skin that you leave the theater wondering if he can ever come back.