Screen Review: Men in bleccch!

ANGELS IN AMERICA | An adjuster (John Slattery, left) tries to keep a politician (Matt Damon) on course with his fate in this silly but never quite ridiculously fun time-waster.

‘Adjustment Bureau’ portrays God as bureaucrat. That’s its best quality

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

At the risk of being accused of picking nits, the first thing among the many that bothers me about The Adjustment Bureau is that a key plot point involves a former congressman and current Wall Street big-wig traveling through New York City by bus. Now, in a movie that deals with angels, fate and magic doors, the details of transportation may seem miniscule, but that’s the problem: If you want me to buy the big stuff, you have to convince me in the details. There’s a reason monkeys pick nits out of their fur: They are annoying.

So is, ultimately, The Adjustment Bureau. As a movie, it’s neither fish nor fowl: Does it want to be a chick flick, about how a romance between an ambitious politician (Matt Damon) and a free-spirited dancer (Emily Blunt) can overcome fate itself? Or is it a sci-fi action film with Matrix-like ambitions to reveal the One Big Secret: That what we think of as free will is actually an intense heavenly bureaucracy of angels wearing fedoras and God as a CEO who meddles in individual lives?

The script, based on a Phillip K. Dick story, is too gadabout for its own good. There are echoes of Men in Black, but not the humor. (The joke of MiB is that the agents look like clichés of spies; apparently, the best angels can do to disguise themselves in 2011 America is dress like 1950s G-Men, or extras who wondered off the set of Mad Men.)

This is a poor man’s Inception, and even though it makes marginally more sense, its style and its premises just don’t fly. Damon’s character wants to find Blunt’s but can’t — how could he possibly track her down? What, he’s never heard of Missed Connections on Craigslist? How about he goes on TV and mentions it — he is a damn national hero, after all. (If I worried about every profile on Grindr that fell off my radar, I’d never get any work done.) It’s also been done before, better, as the “City on the Edge of Forever” episode of the original Star Trek. Harlan Ellison should consider legal action.

Maybe if there was any romantic chemistry between Blunt and Damon it could work (there isn’t; a passionate kiss near the end looks like a painful prostate exam for both of them; Blunt seems far sexier when she’s dancing with the men of the Cedar Lake Ballet company, which gets the best P.R. since E.T. ate Reece’s Pieces). Or maybe we’d care if the climax didn’t hinge on weird rules, like Heaven having worse security safeguards than Los Alamos, water making angels ineffectual (on a planet covered three-fourths in oceans) and a sleepy operative allowing destiny to go off course. I’m not exaggerating at all. Perhaps if I were, it might actually entertain you, instead of drain you. If this is the destiny of movies, I say we all go off the map.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 4, 2011.

—  John Wright