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Movie Review

Workplace romance kills laughs in 'The Method'

"The Method" has a decent premise. Seven job candidates sit in a locked conference room and strategize each other out of contention. We never learn why they want this job or what exactly the company -- Dexia -- does. But we know it's dubious since at the foot of its Madrid headquarters protesters are rioting. The real source of their outrage is the World Bank and International Monetary Fund; we're meant to see Dexia as guilty by association.

The conference room is relatively peaceful: no tear gas and virtually no tears. Based on a play by Jordi Galceran and directed by the Argentine Marcelo Piñeyro , "The Method" gradually introduces its characters to something called the Gronholm Method, which is meant to separate the weak from the strong. The test isn't physical so much as devotional: who will stand by his multinational corporate bosses unconditionally? I was amazed to find that for about an hour, I cared.

The five men and two women really discuss matters of fealty and ethics and responsibility. Was Julio (Carmelo Gomez ) wrong to put the disclosure of his previous company's ecological transgressions ahead of the company itself? Is one of the participants really being considered for dismissal because she's older and female?

The office fascinates us -- the corporate or corporate-ish office does, anyway -- because many people know from cubicles and cutthroat workplace politics, suck-ups, subversives, and CEOs you rarely ever see. We are all -- as Douglas Coupland mused once in a great and still timely book -- "Microserfs ." One of my favorite commercials right now is for the FedEx Cup golf tournament. In it, about a dozen underlings are up at the crack of dawn in a conference room frantically dialing to a club to secure their boss a respectable tee time. It's absurdist, and it's painfully apt.

There's some of that truth in this movie, which came out in Spain two years ago. No one seems desperate for the job, per se. It's doubtful they know exactly what it even entails. What's interesting is their willingness to subject themselves to the arrogant whims of an omniscient and unseen potential employer, whom we're allowed to imagine is just the back of a tall leather office chair. For a while, the seven of them sit around trying to figure out who among them is the mole the company installed to assess employment worthiness. They even pretend to like their horrid lunch in order to please the perky but crafty executive assistant, who's played by the always wonderful Natalia Verbeke .

The movie doesn't trust that an illuminating comedy of pathetic people can be entertaining for long, so it sprinkles some hormones on the proceedings. Or maybe the thinking is, if you're going to put the Spanish star Eduardo Noriega in your movie (he's one of the candidates), you'd better give him a woman to dote on. But Noriega's worked with Piñeyro in "Burnt Money" and with this movie's co-writer, Mateo Gil, who co-wrote one of Noriega's biggest parts 10 years ago, as the disfigured hottie in Alejandro Amenabar's "Open Your Eyes." He's as handsome as ever. But as the movie insists on rekindling an old love (even to unhappy ends), it inadvertently suggests why so many workplace romances are frowned upon: They ruin everything.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com. For more on movies, go to boston.com/ae/ movies/blog.

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