THE PROMOTION — ** 1/2 — Seann William Scott, John C. Reilly, Jenna Fischer; rated R (profanity, vulgarity, brief drugs, violence, slurs, brief sex)

Seann William Scott's screen presence is far more cocky than it is likable, but that has served him all right so far in such comedy hits as "American Pie."

But it becomes a problem when he stars in something like "The Promotion," a comedy in which we're supposed to sympathize with the character he plays.

Instead, it's easier to relate to the other characters than his, which undercuts this workplace comedy to a certain degree. Also, while it does have a few chuckles, the movie isn't as sharply honed as it probably should be.

Scott stars as Doug Staubner, an assistant manager at a Chicago-area grocery store. He's in line to become the manager at a new store location, a higher-paying job that would help nice-guy Doug and his nurse wife, Jen (Jenna Fischer), buy their dream home.

However, he's got some serious competition for the job — mainly from new arrival Richard Wehlner (John C. Reilly), who's recently moved from Canada.

What's worse, once Doug gets to know eager beaver Richard, he discovers that he actually likes his competitor, a recovering drug addict who also has a wife (Lili Taylor) and young child (Abby Allen).

Surprisingly, the competition between the two main characters isn't nearly as nasty and as heated as you might expect it to be, and screenwriter Steve Conrad's directorial debut might have been better if it had tried to go the dramatic route rather than the comic one.

The most effective moments come when Scott's character is torn between his desires for a better life and his burgeoning friendship with his supposed rival.

However, a work-retreat sequence is hilarious, thanks to a scene-stealing supporting bit from Jason Bateman. And Reilly's convincing portrayal of the somewhat self-destructive Richard does make the whole thing watchable.

"The Promotion" is rated R for strong sexual language (occasional profanity, vulgar slang terms and other crude sex talk), brief drug content and references (marijuana), some brief violence (a parking lot scuffle), slurs based on race and sexual preference, and other derogatory language, as well as some brief sexual contact. Running time: 85 minutes.

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