American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Corporations have replaced Nazis as the politically correct villains of the age -- and just in time, because it was getting increasingly difficult to produce Nazis who survived into the 21st century ("Hellboy" had to use a portal in time). "The Manchurian Candidate" used a corporation instead of the Chinese communists, and thrillers like "Resident Evil" give us corporations whose recklessness turns the population into zombies. "In Good Company" is a rare species: a feel-good movie about big business. It's about a corporate culture that tries to be evil and fails.
It doesn't start out that way. We meet Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid), head of advertising sales at a sports magazine, who has the corner office and the big salary and is close to landing a big account from a dubious client (Philip Baker Hall). Then disaster strikes. The magazine is purchased by Teddy K (an unbilled Malcolm McDowell), a media conglomerator in the Murdoch mode, who takes sudden notice of a 26-year-old hotshot named Carter Duryea (Topher Grace) and sends him in to replace Dan. Carter takes Dan's job and corner office, but instinctively keeps Dan as his "assistant," perhaps sensing that someone in the department will have to know more than Carter knows.
Dan accepts the demotion. He needs his job to keep up the mortgage payments and support his family. But Carter, known as a "ninja assassin" for his firing practices, fires Morty (David Paymer), an old-timer at the magazine. As we learn more about Morty's home life, we realize this only confirms the suspicions of his wife, who thinks he's a loser.
Developments up to this point have followed the template of standard corporate ruthlessness, with lives made redundant by corporate theories that are essentially management versions of a pyramid scheme: Plundering victims and looting assets can be made to look, on the books, like growth.