The Adjustment Bureau: The Adjustment Bureau looks like one of those respectable but unspectacular movies that Matt Damon and/or George Clooney tend to appear in between gigs for Soderbergh and the Coens, and it is that, but it’s also a surprisingly fleet and engaging bit of hokum. Writer-director George Nolfi, author of Bourne and Ocean’s sequels, is the latest Clooney/Damon-affiliated screenwriter to score his own downtime movie, and his (presumably loose) adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story is about halfway between Bourne dourness and Ocean’s frivolity—the average working out to a lighter, more playful sci-fi-fantasy exploration of man’s freewill, or possible lack thereof.
Damon plays David Norris, an upstart politician who loses a New York senate race but finds Elise (Emily Blunt), a charming dancer, in a hotel bathroom, and makes an instant connection. One chance encounter later, he stumbles into the plans of the adjustment bureau, a shadowy organization that reroutes lives and fates in compliance with a written “plan”—caught in the fact, they come clean, explain their role, and forbid David from further contact with Elise, doing their best to obstruct any courtship. But David persists; he won’t give up Elise so easily. The bureau, though positioned as agents of a god of sorts, play the part of disapproving parents, with David and Elise as smitten, stubborn teenagers in love. It’s a little silly, then, but Damon and Blunt have chemistry enough for the conceit to work; we barely see them in a real relationship, yet instinctively want them to be together.
One of the movie’s neatest tricks is the way the bureau members appear omniscient (and, indeed, they have powers that could only reasonably be described as magic or, if you will, divine) but are also mired in bureaucracy, policy, and physical limitations (“we don’t have the manpower to follow everyone all of the time,” one of the hat-wearing agents solemnly notes—no kidding, they don’t have manpower of seven billion?). To further prevent them from total dominance, rain clouds their perception, and, hey, their version of public transportation is more confusing downtown, too! Though The L’s Michael Joshua Rowin finds the NYC locales touristy, the movie has fun with its trap-door tours, and travels to some less movie-obvious locations, too, like Madison Square Park, and a street in Red Hook that I only recognized because I was there a couple of weeks ago.
There are plenty of nits to pick with the metaphysics of The Adjustment Bureau; an organization that prides itself on subtly but firmly influencing decision-making processes, for example, seems like one that should be able to work around Damon and Blunt insisting on loving each other, rather than try to plow through it, and any similar logistical questions are answered with a resounding clunk by the movie’s shrugworthy ending. But before it reaches the point of diminishing return, this is a diverting little riff on the possibilities of free will and chance. Just keep your expectations, you know, adjusted.
Rango: With three Pirates movies and this new cartoon, Gore Verbinski has suddenly given Tim Burton a run for his money for Johnny Depp collaboration. Depp voices a lizard in Rango, some kind of semi-surrealist talking-animal western-noir; it sounds like the inventive family-friendly Verbinski of the first Pirates movie (or, for that matter, Mousehunt) rather than the overtaxed, mythology-flooded Verbinski of the other two Pirates movies. The animation looks like a neat departure from the Pixar, DreamWorks, and Fox house styles, although I wish Verbinski would carve out some time in his schedule for another human-friendly movie like The Weather Man in between taking on gigantic fantastical projects as you are apparently obligated to do after you do a trilogy of something.
Take Me Home Tonight: I can’t claim to understand the ins and outs of Hollywood business decisions; of all the movies to shelve for three or four years, for example, Take Me Home Tonight, an ensemble comedy that wants (according to star-producer Topher Grace) to be an 80s version of American Graffiti or Dazed and Confused, looks pretty damn marketable. You’ve got Topher Grace in charming slacker mode (and when this movie was actually filmed, he was still sort of the correct age for said mode!) and Anna Faris, who is almost always hilarious. Okay, sidekick Dan Fogler is no more appealing as an imitation Jack Black than he was back in 2008, but he hasn’t gained enough exposure to be much less appealing, right? The point is, Fogler or not, this movie looks commercial and I’m surprised it sat on the shelf.
Beastly: Speaking of shelves! It seems like CBS Films (taking a break from Rock and Statham vehicles to romance the tween crowd) pushed this Alex Pettyfer/Vanessa Hudgens Beauty and the Beast retelling until such time as Alex Pettyfer appeared in other big movies and emerged a sought-after superstar. However, said other big movie was I Am Number Four, so this plan may have backfired, and this movie, which I totally (kind of) want to see because the last time I took a chance on a cheesy-looking teen movie with Vanessa Hudgens I wound up really liking Bandslam, may be put on a shelf until such time as Alex Pettyfer becomes a more grizzled and also more respected character actor sometime around 2045.
happythankyoumoreplease: Speaking even more of shelves! Josh Radnor stars in a funnier-than-average network sitcom that plays with its format, and has now written, directed, and starred in a comedy-drama about twenty-and-thirtysomethings. In other words, he has to assume the Zach Braff comparisons are in the mail. Braff’s movie, which is now pretty fashionable to dislike or pretend you never liked, had a graceful visual sense and funny performances even when Braff’s writing faltered; Radnor, who skirts a Braffesque endearing-or-irritating line on television, would be lucky to come out with a movie that confident and engaging. Maybe he has! But the long delay between Sundance premiere and actual theatrical release via Anchor Bay is not encouraging. But: the weirdly indie-ubiquitous Malin Akerman co-stars! Swedish sensation Malin Akerman!