In which The Adjustment Bureau Runs Philip K Dick's Premise into the Ground 

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The Adjustment Bureau
Directed by George Nolfi

While preparing his concession speech, Senate hopeful David Norris (Matt Damon) experiences coup de foudre with British free spirit Elise (Emily Blunt), who promptly vanishes. Months later they serendipitously meet again. They weren't supposed to: a Mad Men-attired seraph-agent (Anthony Mackie; John Slattery plays his boss) has fouled up his assignment, allowing Norris to bond with Elise and failing to prevent him from witnessing a routine reality "adjustment" undertaken by the agent's near-omnipotent coworkers. Commanded by these not-so-inconspicuous men behind the curtain to never see Elise again (it's part of their mysteriously inflexible "plan"), Norris attempts to do just that, continually hurdling obstacles—dead phone lines, traffic accidents—placed in his path by universe-manipulating agents.

The latest in a decade-long bull market for Philip K. Dick adaptations, The Adjustment Bureau successfully runs an intriguing paranoid and theological premise straight into the ground. Fault lies with first-time director/veteran screenwriter George Nolfi, who crafts a remarkably hollow hero with whom to venture into unexplored metaphysical territory. Despite ceaseless reiterations of his political populism and self-sabotaging impulsiveness, neither of these qualities are effectively realized or expressed by Damon, lately the blandly charming poster boy for Patriot Act-era man-against-the-machine metaphors. And even as it shows intermittent flashes of turning old free will v. predestination debates into entertaining pulp, the film ultimately becomes a muddled for-love-or-career tale flattened by monotony: Norris sees Elise, is told not to, learns more as to why, then defies orders; rinse and repeat. A lame climactic chase exemplifies Bureau's dearth of imagination, the couple taking a "plan"-subverting, "See New York City!" tourist romp through MoMA, the Statue of Liberty and, appropriately enough, the shitty new Yankee Stadium.

Opens March 4

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