Four very disenfranchised girls meet as temps in the stultifying offices of Global Credit. Iris (Toni Collette) is a mousy thing who lives with her too-supportive sad sack of a Dad (Paul Dooley). Paula (Lisa Kudrow) is a self-deluded blonde who fancies herself hot stuff as well as a brilliantly promising actress. Jane (Alanna Ubach) is overly compulsive about a lot of things, not least of which is her imminent wedding. And then there's the group's wild card, brash Margaret (Parker Posey), the self-appointed ringleader. Their days pass with numbing sameness until a number of items appear to have been stolen from the office. General suspicion and tensions arise and the fact of Global Credit's being a complete dead end for them all becomes ever more apparent.

Don't go to Clockwatchers expecting a rambunctiously picaresque romp through the fields of the transiently employed. It has none of the fun of The Kids in the Hall's classic 'Tanya the Temp' skits or Debi Mazar's regrettably short-lived series, 'Temporarily Yours.' Nor does it offer the cheesy Grade-B thrills of The Temp. The basic tone here is SM (Strictly Morose). These girls are, quite simply, losers, of the very type their callous employers would love to believe them to be. Not one of them possesses anything in the way of real attractiveness, wit or style. They actually pray and live in hope of landing a permanent position at this morgue of a firm. Put simply, the premise is rather stacked. None of them has even the cheapest semblance of a car-in what is obviously Los Angeles-which means that they catch the bus, which is like tricycling through the Gobi Desert. Each of them possesses varying degrees of prettiness, yet scaring up dates somehow seems to be a definite problem. Only one of them has a discernible boyfriend; only one of them has a rather less discernible outside career interest. Talk about four basic wastes of space. You just want to shake these four twits out of their collective, weirdly unsubstantiated malaise. And yet, of course, we're supposed to care.

Director Jill Sprecher and her sister/co-writer Karen are at pains to convey the deadening, Kafkaesque atmosphere of the Office, even layering on some suspiciously archaic piped-in Muzak, with that hoary explanation: 'It increases worker productivity.' (Didn't that go out in the '70s?) All male characters are predictably boorish, ineffectual or just plain anal. The lighting is as dim as the girls' personalities. Even the obligatory Happy Hour bar scene is played for pathos rather than laughs. Yes, yes, we feel their pain, all too well, and it's a relief when it (and the movie) finally ends.

With more help behind the scenes, you feel the actresses might have made a go of it. In what seems less-than-inspired typecasting Collette now essays her third romantic-loser part (the overrated, screechy Muriel's Wedding, Emma and now this). She's appealing, and has a lovely, bell-like voice but, like the others, is completely muffled. Kudrow, with her charming dippiness, might have done something delicious with Paula, but flails about rather embarrassingly. (One scene-on that damned bus-has her cluelessly miming various emotions for Collette to decipher.) Ubach looks better than she ever has before onscreen, really lovely, but has entirely lost the manically hilarious, young Ruth Gordon energy she had in Denise Calls Up and The Brady Bunch Movie. It's maybe time for Posey to relinquish her Queen of the Indies crown. Having done over 25 films in the past five years, as the press kit perhaps unhelpfully states, her perkily rebellious impishness is fast starting to lose its surprise. With a minimum of lines, Helen Fitzgerald manages to make an interesting impression as a nerdy permanent whose very existence threatens the aimless quartet to their very roots. Debra Jo Rupp has the proper snippiness as the dreaded office manager.

--David Noh