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David Paymer

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2009 in Film.

Merry Christmas, everyone. As we’re at the halfway point of the big decade list — Pt. 1, Pt. 2 — now seems like a good time to uncork the usual end-of-year movie list. Think of it as a new-stuff sorbet before we move to the final fifty.

I should say before we start that there are a few movies I’ll very likely see from 2009 — most notably The Lovely Bones, A Single Man, and The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus — that aren’t included due to their limited release schedule — most don’t arrive around these parts until 2010. The better-than-expected Sherlock Holmes, which I saw yesterday and have not yet reviewed in full, is also not here, although I did think of slotting it in at #20 before the Victorian-era tazer and remote-controlled cyanide bomb showed up. And there are still a few other stragglers I wouldn’t mind catching at some point, most notably Invictus and The Messenger. But if any of these are really, really great, they’ll either get backdated in or show up in next year’s list, as per usual. So don’t worry — credit will get paid where due.

In the meantime, as has been the standard — and although the decade list has been working differently — we start at #1 and proceed from there. And without further ado, the…

Top 20 Films of 2009
[2000/2001/2002/2003/2004/2005/2006/2007/2008]

1. In the Loop: “Tobes, I don’t want to have to read you the Riot Act, but I am going to have to read you some extracts from the Riot Act, like: Section 1, Paragraph 1: Don’t leave your boss twisting in the wind and then burst in late, smelling like a pissed seaside donkey.” Even if I hadn’t moved back to DC this year for a ringside seat to the clusterfrak, Armando Ianucci’s In the Loop would’ve been at the top of my list. I’m not normally a huge laugher at movies, but this flick had me rolling.

Basically, In the Loop is Office Space for people in politics, and it’s a smart, wickedly funny entertainment. And like Judge’s film and The Big Lebowski, I expect it will enjoy a long, happy, and very quotable renaissance on DVD. If you find The Daily Show or Colbert Report at all enjoyable, this is a must-see. And, even if you don’t, well the choice Scottish swearing should get you through.

2. Moon: While Michael Bay, McG and their ilk tried to top each other with gimongous explosions this summer, Duncan Jones’ moody, low-key Moon just aimed to blow our minds. A throwback to the seventies big-think sci-fi that has fallen out of favor in the post-Star Wars-era, Moon‘s big special effect, other than Sam Rockwell, of course, was its clever ideas. And in a year of hit-or-miss (mostly miss) blockbusters, Rockwell’s quiet two-man show turned out to be the sci-fi extravaganza of 2009.

3. A Serious Man: Oy vey. This existential disquisition into wandering dybbuks, sixties Judaica, quantum mechanics, and Old Testament justice was yet another triumph for those devilishly talented brothers from Minnesota. The Job-like travails of Larry Gopnik introduced us to several colorful, Coenesque personages (Sy Ableman, Rabbi Nachtner) and offered vignettes (the Goy’s Teeth) and quotable philosophy (“Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you“) that cinephiles will ponder for awhile to come. The Coens abide.

4. The Hurt Locker: Bombs away, and we’re not ok. Other than Modern Warfare 2 and Generation Kill, this immersive, nail-biting account of an IED team’s travails in the midst of the suck was the best pop culture simulator out there for feeling embedded in Iraq…and stuck at the wrong Baghdad street corner at just the wrong time. And with the tension ratcheting to uncomfortable levels in each of the ordnance disposal scenes, Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Lockersorry, King of the World — was the action movie of the year.

5. Coraline: In an auspicious year for both regular (see #10) and stop-motion (see #13) animation, Henry Selick’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline was the pick of the litter. It sorta got lost in the early-year shuffle, but Selick & Gaiman’s dark, twisted fairy tale delivered the goods, and hopefully it’ll find more life on DVD.

6. District 9: For those who find Moon a little too talky and slow, I direct you to Neil Blomkamp’s little (ok, $30 million) South African indie that could. Alien Nation meets Cry Freedom with healthy dollops of Cronenberg body horror and old-school Peter Jackson viscera-splatter, District 9 came out as more than the sum of its parts, and (with #8) was one of the most purely enjoyable films of the summer.

7. (500) Days of Summer: “This is a story of boy meets girl. The boy, Tom Hansen of Margate, New Jersey, grew up believing that he’d never truly be happy until the day he met The One. This belief stemmed from early exposure to sad British pop music and a total mis-reading of the movie ‘The Graduate’.” Speaking of said music, here’s a movie the early Elvis Costello would love. Sure, (500) Days is unabashedly for folks who’ve been on the wrong end of a break-up. But, even if it is ultimately Annie Hall-lite in a lot of ways, it had more truths to tell than most of the rom-coms out in any given year…combined.

8. Drag Me to Hell: Shaking off the Spidey 3 doldrums, Sam Raimi went back to his gross-out Evil Dead roots for this carnival concoction. Besides being easily the most explicitly anti-gypsy film since Borat, Drag Me to Hell was also, in its own way, as much of a Great Recession cautionary tale as Up in the Air. One hopes that when the Senate takes up financial services reform next year, our erstwhile reformers in that esteemed body will note what happened to Alison Lohman when she, against all better judgment, decided to do the bidding of the Banks.

9. Star Trek: There was admittedly a whole lotta stupid in J.J. Abrams’ Star Warsy revamp of the Star Trek franchise — Once exposed to the light, the movie’s basic premises completely fall apart. But, like the stomachache that accompanies eating too much candy, those regrets come later. In the moment, Star Trek was more fun than you can shake a stick at, and as solid and entertaining a franchise reboot as 2006’s Casino Royale. Let’s hope The Revenge of Khan or whatever it’s called turns out better than Quantum of Solace.

10. Up: If the movie were just the first ten-fifteen minutes, this might’ve been in the top five. But even more than WALL-E, the good stuff in Up is front-loaded. And, after the story of a lifetime ended a quarter hour in, I wasn’t much in the mood for talking dogs and big, funny birds (even birds named Kevin) anymore. Still, Pixar is Pixar, and Up carried their usual mark of quality.

11. The Damned United: Frost/Nixon for the futbol set, Tom Hooper’s ballad of Clough and Revie was a low-key character study that made up for an awkwardly-frontloaded bromance with another great performance by Michael Sheen and plenty of “Life in a Northern Town” local color to spare. You can practically smell the mud off the cleats in this one.

12. Duplicity: Perhaps I’m giving too many props to well-made breezy entertainments this year (see also Nos. 8 & 9). Nonetheless, Tony Gilroy’s Duplicity was a sleek espionage caper and a decently sexy love story that was all the more amusing because the stakes were so small. As it turns out, Clive Owen had just taken on evil corporations with a global reach a few weeks earlier in The International (a movie I caught on DVD, and which was most memorable for its Gunfight in the Guggenheim) — He’s more fun when he’s on the payroll.

13. The Fantastic Mr. Fox: If you see one clever stop-motion adaptation of a sardonic children’s novel this year…well, see Coraline. Nonetheless, The Fantastic Mr. Fox was also one of the better entrants in the 2009 line-up. It was ultimately a little too Wes Anderson saccharine for my tastes, but, of course, your mileage may vary. And at least Fox didn’t wallow in the emo like, you know.

14. Inglourious Basterds: After a decade of languishing in the shallows, Quentin Tarantino found a bit of his old magic in this sprawling alternate history of WWII. Yes, it needed a good and ruthless editor, and some rather longish scenes don’t really work at all (I’m thinking mainly of Shoshanna’s lunch with Goebbels and Linda.) But at certain times — the basement cafe snafu, for example, or the memorable finale — Basterds is the best thing QT has done since Jackie Brown. Let’s hope he stays in form.

15. Public Enemies: Michael Mann’s high-def retelling of The Last Days of Dillinger was a strange one, alright. Like Basterds, it was long and languid and sometimes seemed to move without purpose. But, like Mann’s last grainy-digital foray into tales of manly men and the women they love, Miami Vice, Public Enemies has stuck with me ever since. Say what you will about the hi-def video aesthetic, it somehow seems to match Mann’s haunted, Hemingwayesque sense of poetry.

16. The Informant!: The tragedy of The Insider retold as farce, The Informant!, like many of Steven Soderbergh’s films, was experimental in a lot of ways. Some things worked (the ADM-buttery sheen); Others didn’t (the distractingly peppy Hamlisch score); Others still were hit-or-miss (the in-head bipolar voiceover). Nonetheless, The Informant! is mostly a success, and it’s good to see Soderbergh out there trying new things — I wish I’d gotten around to catching The Girlfriend Experience. (Ahem, the movie, that is. Sheesh, some people.)

17. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans: I had definite doubts going in, but Werner Herzog’s Grand Theft Auto: New Orleans turned out to be a surprisingly fun gonzo trip. After years of hanging with the Kinski, good ole Werner sure knows his way around the crazy, and by pairing Nicholas Cage on a savage burn with hyperreal iguanas, voodoo breakdancers, and the like, he’s done Abel Ferrara’s Gloomy Gus version of this tale one better. There’s no Catholic angst for this Lieutenant — just reveling in sordidness…but then again, isn’t that the whole point of Carnival?

18. Watchmen: “At midnight, all the agents and the superhuman crews go and round up everyone who knows more than they do.” True, Zack Snyder’s attempt to recreate the Alan Moore graphic novel on film is flawed in a lot of ways. (The longer DVD version smooths out some of these issues while introducing others.) And I still wish the project had stayed in Paul Greengrass’ hands. But, give credit where it’s due — For all its many problems (most notably the fratboy-indulgences into “cool” violence), Snyder’s Watchmen got a lot of things right, from Dr. Manhattan sulking on Mars to Jackie Earle Haley’s turn as Rorschach. Snyder couldn’t match the degree of difficulty involved in the end, but Watchmen was still a worthy attempt.

19. The Road: In the Future, There Will Be Cannibals: John Hillcoat’s film version of Cormac McCarthy’s dabbling in the apocalyptic form definitely captured the resonances of the book. And this is a quality production through and through, with solid performances by Viggo, the kid, Charlize Theron, and all of the HBO All-Stars (with particularly big ups to Robert Duvall.) Unfortunately, I didn’t think much of the book either, and in its monochromatic grimness, The Road never seems as memorable as Hillcoat’s earlier film, The Proposition. All work and no play makes Hobo Viggo somethin’ somethin’.

20. The Men Who Stare at Goats: I’m sure a lot of lists would’ve found room for Avatar or Up in the Air in their top twenty, and both have their merits (even if Avatar‘s are almost completely technical.) But if Avatar was too flat and Air too glib, The Men Who Stare at Goats was a frothy excursion that delivered on basically the terms it promised at the onset. Ok, there’s not much there there, but sometimes a couple of likable actors having an extended goof will go farther than Big, Oscar-Worthy Messages and World-Beating Tech. Hmmm, if you think about it, the “sparkly eye” technique probably would’ve gone over better with the Na’vi than all those Aliens-loaned cargo-loaders anyway. Score one for the First Earth Battalion.

Most Disappointing: Where the Wild Things Are, Terminator: Salvation

Worth a Rental: An Education, Avatar, Cold Souls, Eden (2006), Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, The International, Paranormal Activity, Sherlock Holmes, A Single Man, Taken, Up in the Air, Zombieland

Don’t Bother: 2012, The Box, The Brothers Bloom, Extract, A Girl Cut in Two (2006), The Hangover, Invictus, Jennifer’s Body, State of Play, The Tiger’s Tail (2006), Whip It, World’s Greatest Dad

Best Actor: Sam Rockwell, Moon; Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

Best Actress: Carey Mulligan, An Education
Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds; Robert Duvall, The Road
Best Supporting Actress: Marion Cotillard, Public Enemies; Melanie Laurent, Inglourious Basterds

Unseen: 9, Nine, Adventureland, Angels & Demons, Amelia, Antichrist, Armored, Astro Boy, Black Dynamite, Blood: The Last Vampire, Bright Star, Brothers, Bruno, Capitalism: A Love Story, Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant, Crank: High Voltage, Crossing Over, Everybody’s Fine, Funny People, Gentlemen Broncos, GI Joe, The Girlfriend Experience, Good Hair, The Education of Charlie Banks, The Great Buck Howard, Hunger, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, The Invention of Lying, It’s Complicated, Julie & Julia, Land of the Lost, The Limits of Control, , The Lovely Bones, I Love You Man, Me and Orson Welles, The Messenger, New York I Love You, Notorious, Observe & Report, Orphan, Pandorum, Pirate Radio, Ponyo, Precious, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, The Proposal, Push, The Soloist, Surrogates, The Taking of Pelham1-2-3, Taking Woodstock, Thirst, The Time Traveler’s Wife, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, The Twilight Saga: New Moon, Two Lovers, The Ugly Truth, Whatever Works, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Year One

    A Good Year For:

  • The Apocalypse (2012, Zombieland, The Road)
  • Demons (A Serious Man, Drag Me to Hell, Jennifer’s Body, Paranormal Activity)
  • George Clooney (The Men Who Stare at Goats, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Up in the Air)
  • Going Undercover to Play Both Sides (Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, Duplicity, The Informant!)
  • Guy Pearce Cameos (The Road, The Hurt Locker)
  • Hipsters with Unresolved Childhood Issues (The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Where the Wild Things Are)
  • “The Jews” (Inglourious Basterds, A Serious Man)
  • Matthew Goode (Watchmen, A Single Man)
  • Melanie Lynskey (Up in the Air, The Informant!)
  • Stop-Motion (Coraline, The Fantastic Mr. Fox)

    A Bad Year For:

  • Goats (Drag Me to Hell, The Men Who Stare at Goats)
  • Robots from the Future (Transformers 2, Terminator: Salvation)
  • Pithy Movie Titles: (Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, X-Men Origins: Wolverine)
  • Summer blockbusters: (GI Joe, Terminator: Salvation, Transformers 2, Wolverine)

2010: Alice in Wonderland, All Good Things, The American, The A-Team, The Book of Eli, Brooklyn’s Finest, Clash of the Titans, A Couple of Dicks, Daybreakers, The Expendables, Greenberg, The Green Hornet, Green Zone, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1, I Love You Phillip Morris, Inception, Iron Man 2, Jonah Hex, Kick-Ass, Knight & Day, The Last Airbender, Legion, The Losers, Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, Morning Glory, Predators, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Red, Robin Hood, Salt, Season of the Witch, Shanghai, Shutter Island, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Toy Story 3, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps, The Wolf Man, Youth in Revolt, more needless ’80s remakes than you can shake a stick at. (Footloose, The Karate Kid, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Red Dawn), and…

TRON 2. 2010, y’all. It’s the future, and no mistake.

Down, Up, and Over.

Since I’m behind on my movie reviews, as ever, I’m hitting up the past few summer flicks I’ve witnessed in bulk. So, in brief:

A loving throwback to the director’s Evil Dead days, and an audience film if there ever was one, Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell delivers a solidly entertaining two hours of low-budge comic mayhem, if you’re in the mood for it. It doesn’t really aspire to be anything more than what it is — a B-movie carnival funhouse. But taken as such, Drag Me to Hell offers thrills, chills, and (gross-out) spills with plenty of Raimi’s old-school tongue-in-cheek. I enjoyed myself quite a bit at a virtually empty screening, and would think this movie would kill with a packed Saturday night crowd. Buy the ticket, take the ride.

If you haven’t seen the previews, Christine Brown (Alison Lohman, quite appealing) is an ex-farm-girl trying to shake off her country roots and jump ahead a few social strata in the City of Angels, and she’s doing everything she can to be (or at least seem) upwardly mobile — she’s listening to pronunciation tapes to lose her accent, she’s foregoing sweets to keep her (newly thin) figure, she’s eyeing a promotion to assistant manager at the bank she works at, she has wildly overpaid for a trendy Mac laptop, etc. Then again, the last decision was probably forced on her, as Christine is currently dating Mac Guy (Justin Long), here Clay, a new psychology professor whose wealthy, elitist parents radiate condescension towards poor Christine. (By the way, fellow gradual students: if the kid being dragged to Hell before the opening credits didn’t tip you off that this is fantasy, the sight of Long starting a new academic job, complete with spiffy office, should do the trick. Riiiiight.)

At any rate, in her halfhearted attempts to seem ruthless enough for her bank promotion, Christine one day refuses the pleas of a sickly (re: gross) old woman (Lorna Raver) and signs off on the foreclosure of her home. Huge mistake, as this grotesque crone is actually of the gypsy persuasion — Yes, this movie is gonna make massive bank in Kazakhstan. Soon enough, after a comic brawl that involves stapled eyes and a lot of gummings, said gypsy dooms Christine to Hell. Hades. The Bad Place. And so, poor Ms. Brown only has three days — days which she will spend tormented by the lamia, a shadowy goat demon from the nefarious netherrealms — to save her soul. And, if you factor in LA ‘s infernal traffic, that’s really only two days…

One of the running jokes in Drag Me to Hell is that pretty much everybody around Christine — her boss (David Paymer), her co-worker (Reggie Lee), her gypsy nemesis, Clay’s parents, even Clay, whose warmth and sincere fondness for Christine is infused with noblesse oblige — is probably more deserving of her dire straits than she. Raimi’s film is positively Victorian in its punishing of Christine for trying to transgress class boundaries — apparently, there is no sin worse in LA than social striving. Still, pondering Drag Me to Hell‘s socioeconomic implications for any length of time is missing the point. Best to just sit back and let the blood, maggots, and embalming fluid flow. And if the elderly woman a few seats over won’t stop hacking, coughing, or chattering during the film — trust me, you’ll want to just let her do her thing.

Soon after bounding out of Drag Me to Hell, I caught Pixar’s Up in 3D. And, yes, like every other Pixar movie you can name (with the possible exception of Cars), it’s an impressive, eye-popping, first-rate entertainment, with both colorful craziness for the kids and a haunting resonance for adults. My go-to-Pixar films remain Toy Story 2 and The Incredibles, but I’m sure this’ll make a few people’s favorites list as well, even if most of the film actually comes off as somewhat anti-climactic.

Up begins with a meet-cute between nerdy Carl (eventually, Ed Asner) and adventurous Elie (Elizabeth Docter), two youngsters who share an inordinate fondness for explorer Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer) and his Spirit of Adventure, the zeppelin he piloted to faraway Paradise Falls, never to return. These two kids enter a pact that they will one day follow in the footsteps of their hero…but, after love, puberty, marriage, and a life well-lived, they never quite make it. By ten minutes in, Elie has passed on, Carl is now an old and curmudgeonly retiree, and their longtime house is about to be torn down by ne’er-do-well corporate developers. Knowing no gypsies, Carl takes drastic action of a different kind — he attaches several hundred helium balloons to the premises and simply floats away. And, with an inadvertent stowaway in tow — That would be Russell (Jordan Nagai), the would-be Wilderness Scout who just wants to “assist the elderly” and procure his final badge — Carl finally has that long-awaited Paradise Falls adventure, which includes but is not limited to an ill-fated reunion with Muntz, a giant bird named Kevin, and a gaggle of roaming, Bowlingual-enhanced dogs…Squirrel!

Much hilarity and occasional melancholy ensues, of course, as per the norm. But for all the film’s many strengths, I thought Up suffered from a grievous structural flaw that knocks it out of the top tier of Pixar offerings. Remember how the first forty minutes of WALL-E just overpowered the broader and more whimsical “starship fatties” half of the movie? Well, Up feels even more frontloaded. The first ten minutes or so of the film, encompassing Carl and Elie’s many decades together, is so concise and elegantly told that it just put me out of the mood for the colorful birds and talking dog hijinx that follows. Ever see the ST:TNG episode where, due to that particular week’s encounter with a cosmic energy force, Picard ends up living out an entire lifetime — marriage, kids, grandkids, and all — while only forty-five minutes passes on the Enterprise? How was he supposed to go back to the usual random shuttling back-and-forth across the Alpha Quadrant after an experience like that? Well, Up felt for me much the same. It basically peaks in the first ten minutes, as it tells the story of a lifetime, and everything thereafter — tho’ kids will probably feel different — is just a slow leaking of air.

I’ve noticed in my conversations with movie people that there seems to be a distinct generation of men — say, five to ten years younger than me — who think of Todd Phillips’ Old School as a certifiable comedy classic, the Stripes or Revenge of the Nerds of its era. (FWIW, I thought Old School was terrible, and remember very little about it except Will Ferrell honing his naked-guy schtick.) Well, I’m guessing a lot of those folks thought more of Todd Phillips’ The Hangover than I did. It’s not a bad movie or anything — in fact, I would call it intermittently funny. But i didn’t find it anywhere near as uproarious as some reviews would suggest, and I feel I could’ve just as easily caught this flick on cable in a few months and not lost anything. If this is really the comedy event of the summer, then just keep drinking — we’re in for another year to forget.

The premise of The Hangover may be the funniest thing about it. Four friends — ok, three friends and Alan, a weird deadbeat soon-to-be brother-in-law (Zack Galifianakis) — descend upon Vegas to paint the town red for a blowout bachelor party. Cut to the next day, and things have clearly gotten out of hand. Doug the groom (Justin Bartha) is nowhere to be found. Phil the lothario schoolteacher (Bradley Cooper) has a monster headache and a hospital band around his wrist. Stu the henpecked, cuckolded dentist (Ed Helms) has lost a tooth and gained a wife. And Alan can’t find his pants or his man-satchel…but has found a tiger in the bathroom and a toddler in the closet. So what the eff happened? The remaining three musketeers try to piece together clues of their Big Night and find their lost friend before zero hour in California, when Bridezilla awakens. Can they save the day in time?

The Hangover works best if you think that absolutely anything could’ve happened the night before. As it turns out, tho, most of what happened is constrained by what you’ve seen in the previews (or, barring that, the promotional materials all over the theater I was in — Heather Graham, check. Mike Tyson, check. Mike Epps, check.) And so what you’re mostly left with is a few hours of waiting for these haggard guys to tick off the next few boxes and get up to speed with the trailer. In the meantime, their company is, well, mildly entertaining, I guess, although (as in Old School) these dudes — and the sense of humor — are all a bit too mook for my taste. (If you find bare asses funny on their own terms, tho’, have at it.) A lot of the jokes revolves around Zack Galifianakis’s Alan, who’s…not quite right in the head. But, frankly, he just seems like a collection of comedy writing tics than a full-fledged character like, say, Walter Sobchak in Lebowski. What can I say? Humor is a delicate thing, and it differs for different people. But, aside from a line here or there (like the “Holocaust ring” one in the trailer), I just didn’t find The Hangover all that funny. Your mileage may vary.

Besides, on my first wild weekend in Vegas, Dubya started an unnecessary, multibillion-dollar war. Beat that for crazy.

Thirteen Hosts.

Another preview I haven’t seen: This time, it’s the new trailer for Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Thirteen, starring Clooney, Roberts, Pitt, Damon, and the usual assortment of Hollywood cads and roustabouts. I quite liked Twelve (and thought Eleven was so-so), so I’m up for another go.

In the Company of Men.

Contrary to his admission in Ocean’s 12, I’m happy to report that Topher Grace did not in fact “phone in that Dennis Quaid movie.” In fact, he, Quaid, and much of the supporting cast make In Good Company a sometimes saccharine but ultimately worthwhile evening at the movies. Like Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Todd Louiso, Grace is great at bringing to life characters that we all know in real life but rarely see onscreen, and his turn here as aspiring but well-meaning corporate shark Carter Duryea is no exception. And Quaid, who’s slowly taken on a rugged, masculine resonance in his middle-aged period — sorta like Harrison Ford 6-8 years ago — is equally good as displaced and disgruntled ad sales exec Dan Foreman (probably one of the most goofily symbolic character names since Tom Hanks’ “Chuck Noland” in Cast Away.)

In fact, that “Foreman” gimmick is probably the main problem with In Good Company. It’s painted in broad strokes, and at times, the scriptwriting wheels grind so loudly in this so-warmhearted-its-dopey flick that it took me right out of the film. Quaid’s Foreman doesn’t just love his job — he loves his job, with an intensity and naivete that’s, if not unbecoming, at least unrealistic in a guy his age. Similarly, Grace’s overcaffeinated, underexperienced Duryea seems to know instinctively he’s trodding the wrong path from the get-go, which kills what little uncertainty we had about where the story is going. The one real bad guy (Clark Gregg) is really bad, Duryea’s self-absorbed trophy wife (Selma Blair) is really self-absorbed (their foyer is a shrine to her image), and so on. (Scarlett Johansson, rounding out the top bill as Quaid’s daughter and Grace’s post-Blair love interest, is at turns girlish and womanly as the script necessitates…and I didn’t find her believable at all. Then again, I’ll admit, Lost in Translation notwithstanding, I’m starting to find Johansson as annoyingly mannered as Jeremy Davies on his bad days.)

To be fair to In Good Company, my taste in corporate satire runs closer to Brazil, Office Space, The Office, Glengarry Glen Ross, and In the Company of Men than it does to films like this one, which I think almost undoubtedly speaks worse of me than it does this movie. As he also showed in the surprisingly moving About a Boy, writer-director Paul Weitz is magnanimous to a fault with his characters — at times, he doesn’t seem to want to think badly of any of them. And, particularly with Grace, Quaid, and role players like David Paymer working their mojo, In Good Company‘s kindness is contagious — Annoyed by the sugary-sweetness of it all at first, I found myself slowly and inexorably won over by the movie in the middle hour. By the time Quaid speaks truth to power (in the form of Malcolm McDowell’s Murdoch-like Teddy K) in the final act, I knew the movie was selling me a seriously implausible view of just desserts and the corporate life. But, ultimately, I didn’t mind so much.
Just as the film condemns globalization and “synergy” while throwing in more gratuitous product placements per minute than I’ve seen in some time, In Good Company nevertheless eventually won me over with its generosity of spirit. As Barnum said, there’s a sucker born every minute, and by the end, I was another satisfied customer.

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