March 5 (Bloomberg) -- “The Adjustment Bureau,” starring Matt Damon as a politician hounded by Big Brother bureaucrats trying to control his life, is about the conflict between destiny and free will.
If you feel destined to see this movie, I’d advise you to exercise your free will and resist the urge.
Writer/director George Nolfi has altered and expanded Philip K. Dick’s 1954 short story, “Adjustment Team,” almost beyond recognition.
Nolfi has changed the main character from a married insurance salesmen to a bachelor New York congressman, added a love affair with a ballerina (Emily Blunt) and dressed it up with a noirish New York City backdrop where all the bad guys wear fedoras and overcoats. Think “Mad Men” without the cocktails.
The result is a drab, one-note movie that fails as a romance or thriller. Damon and Blunt are engaging actors, but they can’t light a spark here.
Damon plays U.S. Senate candidate David Norris, who meets mysterious dancer Elise in the men’s room at the Waldorf Astoria hotel while rehearsing his concession speech on election night. (She’s hiding out from security guards after crashing a wedding.)
Inspired by her pep talk, Norris goes out and delivers a brutally honest diatribe that keeps his political career alive.
Though they’re immediately smitten, they don’t meet again until a chance encounter on a bus as Norris heads to his new job on Wall Street.
That’s when he meets up with creeps from the Adjustment Bureau, who are assigned to make sure that everyone’s life goes as planned by their all-powerful boss, known as The Chairman.
Hooking up with Elise isn’t part of the plan for Norris, who is warned to stay away from her by a silver-haired adjuster played by John Slattery (“Mad Men”). The Chairman has big political ambitions for Norris and doesn’t want him to be distracted by love.
The penalty for disobeying is a “reset,” which erases the offender’s brain. (Has that happened already to some folks in D.C.?)
The rest of the movie is basically a cat-and-mouse game, with Norris pursuing Elise while trying to avoid The Chairman’s henchmen.
Norris gets some unexpected help from a guilt-ridden adjuster (Anthony Mackie) who shows him how to pass through magical doors that lead to Yankee Stadium and the Statue of Liberty.
The most welcome door at the screening I attended said exit.
“The Adjustment Bureau,” from Universal Pictures, is playing across the U.S. Rating: *1/2
Josh Radnor, who stars in a TV sitcom (“How I Met Your Mother”) about an eclectic group of young New Yorkers, tackles the same subject in his directing debut.
“Happythankyoumoreplease” centers on an aspiring novelist Sam (Radnor), whose laid-back life is shaken up by a foster-care kid (Michael Algieri) he meets in the subway and a waitress/singer (Kate Mara) he falls for at first sight.
Also part of the dramedy ensemble are Annie (Malin Akerman), a lovelorn woman rendered bald by an auto-immune disease, and a couple (Zoe Kazan and Pablo Schreiber) whose relationship is threatened by a possible move to Los Angeles.
The most unusual friendship is the one between Sam and Rasheen, the adorable boy that Sam finds in the subway and takes home to stay with him.
Rasheen turns out to be a talented artist and a good companion, but social-service workers don’t look kindly on his new living arrangement.
The movie’s title is annoyingly pretentious but Radnor, who also wrote the script, has a genuine feel for his characters.
“Happythankyoumoreplease,” from Anchor Bay Films, is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: **
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the writer on the story: Rick Warner in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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