- The Washington Times - Friday, August 29, 2008

The Promotion (Dimension Home Entertainment, $13.99) - Because you missed “The Promotion” when it was released this summer - it grossed less than $500,000 in its theatrical run - make sure to pick up this hidden gem on DVD.

Seann William Scott and John C. Reilly star as assistant managers of a Chicago grocery store competing to become the store manager at a new branch opening down the street. Mr. Scott is best known as Stifler, the sex-crazed jock from the “American Pie” series; for this film he has toned down the act, turning in a surprisingly subtle and touching performance as Doug Stauber.

All Doug wants is to buy a house for himself and his young wife (Jenna Fischer of “The Office”), something with a little space and unobtrusive neighbors. Assured by his boss that he’s going to win the new store-manager gig, he places a good-faith deposit on a cozy little place.

That deposit is put at risk, however, when Richard (Mr. Reilly) transfers in from Canada with designs of his own on the promotion. Mr. Reilly is the comedic heart of the film, prompting more laughs with a facial tic than most actors can get with gut-busting dialogue. Richard and Doug’s sometimes petty, always hilarious battle for the new job is an endearing look at an oft-ignored segment of blue-collar life.

The DVD is nicely stocked with extras. There’s a commentary with writer-director Steven Conrad and the film’s producers as well as the requisite deleted scenes and making-of featurette.

The highlight, though, is a collection of promotional Webisodes. All five are very brief, and all five are very clever. It would be interesting to know just how much of these little vignettes was scripted and how much was ad-libbed. My favorite was “Seann Gets Lost,” a short in which Mr. Scott gives up his car after seeing an environmentalist documentary. All five are quite good, however.

Alfresco (Acorn Media, $39.99) - Nobody does intensely silly comedy like the British. Even when it’s laced with references to Shakespeare and philosophers, it can seem rather like dress-up time while mommy and daddy are out - and that’s not meant as an insult.

The example that comes to many minds is probably the classic “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” Most Americans haven’t yet been exposed to “Alfresco,” though. The sketch-comedy series aired on Britain’s ITV in 1983 and 1984 but has never been seen on American screens. Every episode of the two seasons is available on two discs, along with the three-episode pilot, “There’s Nothing to Worry About!” that gave birth to the series.

“Alfresco” isn’t quite as good as “Python.” It’s still a lot of fun, though, and well worth watching for the big names who got their start on the show. Hugh Laurie (“House”), Emma Thompson (“Sense and Sensibility”), Stephen Fry (“Wilde”), Robbie Coltrane (the Harry Potter films) and Ben Elton (“Blackadder”) all appeared on and wrote for the series.

Some jokes I fear only the British can understand, and you won’t always find yourself chuckling along to the laugh track. There’s plenty of universal humor here, though, as when Mr. Fry and Mr. Coltrane make a Mafia-style visit to Mr. Laurie to find out why he hasn’t been seen in church in weeks. “Satan is puckish,” Mr. Fry’s priest tells Mr. Laurie just before Mr. Coltrane tears up the place a bit. (Mr. Fry and Mr. Laurie later went on to do their own sketch-comedy show, “A Bit of Fry and Laurie,” which also is available on DVD.)

If you’re worried about making sense of all the various accents taken on by the characters - Irish, Scottish and Welsh as well as all varieties of English - there’s no need to fear. There’s even a feature that shows subtitles in English.

The Office: Season Four (Universal, $49.98) - Work took a back seat to romance in the fourth season of NBC’s comedy, a series that shows no signs yet of jumping the shark. Jim and Pam, Michael and Jan, Kelly and Darryl, Angela and Dwight, Angela and Andy - it’s as hard to keep it all straight as it has always been for Michael to keep his underlings in line.

Catch up with this four-disc set before season five of “The Office” premieres on Sept. 25.

The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning (Disney, $29.99) - The Disney Princesses are one of the most popular children’s franchises. Many little girls will be clamoring for this direct-to-DVD release, a prequel to the popular 1989 animated movie that has been turned into a Broadway show.

Kelly Jane Torrance

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