Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Film Review | The Adjustment Bureau

Hold on to Your Hats

by Thomas Delapa

Science fiction fans, heed the warning: Whatever you do, don’t confuse The Adjustment Bureau with Blade Runner. Though both films evolved from Philip K. Dick stories, only the now-classic Blade Runner is the real deal. Now showing (likely briefly), The Adjustment Bureau is but a sci-fi replicant, and a dull, maladjusted one at that.

A Bourne Identity without an identity, The Matrix without any cool tricks, Bureau features a hollow, bottom-drawer performance by Matt Damon. He plays David Norris, a budding, post-partisan U.S. Senate candidate from New York who has a close encounter with a dapper band of supernatural conspirators. Do we humans have free will, or are we simply meat puppets blind to the strings of predestined fate?

Like last year’s Inception, this is one of those sci-fi fantasies that is constantly explaining—and breaking—its own rules, partly to gloss over the filmmakers’ own inability to make sense of them. To his befuddled consternation, David discovers that his life is rigged, presided over by a shadowy bunch of fedora-clad men in black assigned to make sure he fatefully follows the Big Picture. If humans—or at least good-looking elites like Damon—don’t follow the plan, the Adjusters step in and press the reset button. God forbid, don’t call these guys guardian angels; they’re secularized “case officers.”

Trouble is, David obstinately doesn’t get it. Like Toto, he accidentally sneaks a peak behind the curtain, and sees Richardson (Mad Men’s John Slattery) and the Adjusters at work futzing with the future. David truly goes “off plan” when he insists on chasing after a pretty ballerina, Elise (Emily Blunt), whom he meets by chance—maybe—and is convinced is his soul-mate.

Though writer/director George Nolfi transparently calibrates the film with wistful themes of true love and noble sacrifice, the chemistry between Blunt and Damon hardly registers on the molecular scale. Most in the sketchy cast act like stick figures, mouthing wooden dialogue that sounds like something out of a dim Star Trek episode. Only Terence Stamp, as an ominous high-level Adjuster, raises the stakes, but he’s a momentary blip amidst the low-grade storytelling.

Nolfi’s silly finale might be subtitled “Run for Your Wife,” as Damon makes a mad, marathon dash through the streets and skyscrapers of Manhattan, sporting one of those dopey fedoras. He first must rescue the fatally flabbergasted Elise, as well as find a way to outrun his fate.

Hollywood marketing plans to the contrary, I predict that most human audiences will exercise their free will and walk away from the pedestrian Adjustment Bureau.


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