(No longer in theaters)
Mar 4, 2011
If you’re the type that wonders about Fate versus Free Will (Do we have fixed destinies? Are our lives in the hands of an invisible power?), then you’ll enjoy ruminating on the comic conceits of The Adjustment Bureau—perhaps during the movie, to pass the time. It’s based on a slender short story by that visionary paranoiac Philip K. Dick in which the notion that forces control our minds is treated farcically: We’re being directed not by sinister totalitarians but by blundering supernatural bureaucrats, all under the direction of an unseen “Old Man” who labors to keep humankind on course. It must have seemed like a good fit for the first-time director George Nolfi, who co-wrote the last Bourne picture and now casts Matt Damon as a formerly ambitious politician on the run from cosmic agents in fedoras clutching souped-up iPad-like slates who want to keep him from hooking up with his true love (Emily Blunt). But the result plays like Bourne Lite. It’s too blandly whimsical to generate much suspense—or romance or comedy or religious uplift.
What goes wrong? The bureau is staffed with characters played by good actors like John Slattery (dull-witted company man), Anthony Mackie (sympathetic ally), and Terence Stamp (scary mind-blanker), but none of them gets a chance to cut loose—and Mackie unfortunately evokes Will Smith as Damon’s magical New Age black caddie in the soul-curdling The Legend of Bagger Vance. It would have been better to use the talking dog from Dick’s original story: The movie needs more wisecracking animals, or anything, really, that adds some razzle-dazzle. There is one lively CGI running gag: doors that lead from office buildings to baseball stadiums to the Statue of Liberty—a supernatural “substrate” allowing Adjustment Bureau members to cruise around New York City. But Nolfi must have been trying to keep the story from getting bogged down with fancy effects—an excellent idea if there’d been much of a story.
Or more heat. The doughy Damon and aristocratic Blunt don’t match up physically, and they never get any Hepburn-Tracy rhythms going that might create some current. He’s supposedly an ex-ruffian who has lost an in-the-bag U.S. Senate election over a thoughtless bit of mooning. She’s a zany, free-spirited ballet dancer who pops out of a stall in the men’s room while he’s rehearsing his rote concession speech and inspires him to ditch the platitudes and Tell It Like It Is. But Damon has no glad-handing spark, and Blunt—though she moves like a dancer—seems too brainy to play this woman, who suddenly turns into a passive ninny waiting for her knight to whisk her away.
Why does the Adjustment Bureau want to keep Damon and Blunt apart? They have higher plans for him. But he’d rather have the girl. And maybe it’s unfair, maybe I’m holding the picture to too high a standard, but with all the horrors on the world’s horizon, I hated this dope for his mulish, dopey free will—especially given the lack of romantic chemistry! The Adjustment Bureau is so annoying it made me think totalitarian mind control wouldn’t be such a bad thing.