Mar

8

 The Adjustment Bureau

Directed and Written by George Nolfi Reviewed by Marion DS Dreyfus

Cast: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Terence Stamp, John Slattery, Daniel Dae Kim, Anthony Mackie, Michael Kelly, Shohreh Aghdashloo

Look at the roster of films for the past two years, and the slate upcoming. Unknown. A crowd of Sci-fi invasion pics waiting in the wings (as it were) to be released. And now Philip K. Dick's famous sci-fi lenser THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU.

Coming from all sides except possibly the cooking channel are movies that beat singularly hard on one theme: Paranoia. Now of course we do face troubles afield, both in this country under unprecedented malpractice in government, and abroad in the theatre of turbulent fomented revolutions, whether financed by local insurgents, 'students' or even moneybags palindromes who seek to unsettle markets and profit therefrom.

The respected writer Philip Dick wrote many satisfying stories and books before the age of email manacled us to our computers and email. Among them was the story that makes the spine of this unsatisfying New York tale.

From the voluminous work of the protean Philip Dick, who died in 1982, but whose work, alone and compendiumized in the 90s, and recently, over the past three years, many times over. Since his death, 44 novels have been published or republished and translations have appeared in two dozen languages. Six volumes of selected correspondence, written by Dick from 1938 through 1982, were published between 1991 and last year. He was the first of the science-fiction genre to be given the OK imprimatur by the Library of Congress. Time was, you read Sci-Fi, you were playing at the edges of rad, too cool for school, taking the leap. You hid your Asimovs and Arthur C. Clarkes and the like books in some variant of a plain brown wrapper. Like toting around Ayn Rand 20 years ago, before she became the latest word in political reality reading matter. Last count, at least nine films have been adapted from Dick's work, with the masterful and still twisty-dark Blade Runner (1982) probably the gold standard touchstone for aficionados of the genre. Others include Minority Report, Next, Screamers, Imposter, Total Recall.

In keeping with a scholar of the writer who set the mode for all of us sci-fi geeks, the recurrent Dick philosophical memes include false reality (seen in so many films it's now almost a genre unto itself) human vs. machine (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), entropy, the nature of God, and mind and social control.

But this film adaptation changes the premise of Dick's original story, "The Adjustment Team," so that we are left with a wholly unsatisfying premise, a weak middle story, and a resolution that is plucked out of the air. As one of my colleagues, usually a diamond-back hard-nose, commented at my dissatisfaction, "Whaddaya want? It's a contemporary love story!" But the metaphysical elements Matt Damon grapples with as phalanxes of men follow him and try to threaten him his 'path' is determined, and it does not include the character of the luscious Emily Blunt, makes us ask repeatedly, Who are these guys? Why does wearing those anachronistic hats empower them to unlikely feats of transmigration and Manhattan-locale short-cuts? (Was the true financing pooh-bah a milliner? C'mon, you can tell us…) Apparently we lost our 'right' to free will, aside from which dry cleaner to take our shirts to or what yogurt bar to select, 'way back in 1910, when 'mankind' screwed it all up.

It beggars our suspension of disbelief to think a squadron of not particularly impressive men watch us as we go about our lives, tracking us on NYC subway-map lookalikes, determining what we get to choose, do, or proceed to wrest from destiny's no-goodniks. We are led to believe this is a Morgan Freeman-less unpleasant Supreme enchilada and His adjusters, all dressed in Brooks Brothers suiting bespoke and ties, hats and sensible yet apparently good for running shoes. Rain and water play a role in our hero's being able to elude their ubiquitous annoying presence. Men in Black deleted memories, too, but there and in the two amusing sequels, the actors (Tommy Lee Jones and sidekick Will Smith; Rip Torn) kept a hilarious tongue-in-cheekiness about their thingamajig mind resets. Here, it's darkly nasty and threatening, yet no real answers transpire, which gets ultimately annoying and exhausting. Blunt, a luminous actress and exquisite, looks just unhappy and dysenteric as Elise NLN (no last name) throughout, wearing ugly outfits that are Razzie-worthy. She is photographed poorly, and the guys responsible for that should be 'reset' into different professions. Blunt deserves better.

If you don't buy in to the whole super-human A-team notion, everything else falls flat, and the dark, rainy NYC story seems ridiculous. Special effects, as when these sort-of angels, maybe-jealous spirits chase men, they permeate walls and time-space by cutting through wormholes from the Statue of Liberty to the DMV to Yankee Stadium—the audience glazes over. They know it's just and forever a movie trick, and the real thing is not firmly established enough to buy in, so we numb over, unimpressed, in the end. Lots of well-known newsmen and local characters in the NYC scene make cameos. But let's not blame them: They probably never got to see the rushes before they did their 5-second stints to authenticate David Norris, senatorial candidate.
 


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