The Adjustment Bureau

Universal Pictures

Rated PG-13 for sexuality, brief profanity and a violent image.

Mindbending Sci-Fi Pits Free Will vs. Predestination

During his brief lifetime, the prolific Philip K. Dick wrote dozens of science-fiction novels, plus well over 100 short stories. And since his untimely death in 1982, 10 of his works have been brought to the big screen, most notably, Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report.

The latest is The Adjustment Bureau, a surreal, psychological thriller co-starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt. The movie is very loosely based on Adjustment Team, a short story published in 1954, which was more of a Cold War drama than a romantic romp revolving around a star-crossed couple.

In the original adventure, God dispatches disembodied spirits to Earth in order to ease East-West atomic tensions. But then something as simple as a dog’s failure to bark as scheduled sets in motion a destabilizing chain of events that threaten to destroy détente.

For an insurance salesman who failed to hear the hound leaves late for work and consequently shares something he witnesses with his wife. So, it subsequently falls to angels to intervene to ensure that all still unfolds in accordance with the desire of the Creator.

Directed by George Nolfi, The Adjustment Bureau, by contrast, is a revision, which renders the source material unrecognizable except for its supernatural elements. Now, instead of being married to each other, the protagonists are an eligible bachelor and a beautiful ballerina who meet quite by coincidence in a men’s room at the Waldorf Astoria.

Just past the point of departure, we find David Norris (Damon) practicing his concession speech after losing a race for the U.S. Senate. When wedding crasher Elise Sellas (Blunt) sheepishly emerges from a stall, the two fall in love at first sight and proceed to lock lips until they’re interrupted by the Congressman’s Chief of Staff (Michael Kelly). Before separating, David takes her phone number, fully intending to call soon.

However, “The Chairman” has already prescribed a preordained life for him as a prominent politician, a path which definitely excludes Elise. Therefore, a dapper quartet of ethereal emissaries sporting felt fedoras are dispatched to the planet to prevent the pair from seeing each other again.

It takes a few years, but eventually, instead of a canine failing to howl, a lackadaisical angel (Anthony Mackie) falls asleep on a park bench. That allows the frustrated lovebirds another chance encounter, which only serves to reignite their passion.

Following this incident, one of the guys in the funny hats introduces himself to David as his “case officer.” Archangel Richardson (John Slattery) goes on to explain the function of the Adjustment Bureau as enforcers of God’s master plan. He warns David not to pursue a relationship with Elise and that a failure to behave accordingly will result in a lobotomy and a reprogramming.

David, not surprisingly, remains determined to follow his heart, and what ensues is a special effects-driven game of cat-and mouse pitting a pair of hopelessly-smitten humans against an army of angels with an array of supernatural forces at their disposal. Thus, the picture poses the basic question: what would win in a battle between free will and predestination?

Given that this flick is essentially an old-fashioned, Hollywood love story, it’s easy to guess how the tale will turn out. Damon and Blunt certainly generate plenty of chemistry along the way as they elude their captors by dashing in and out of a dizzying number of parallel universes.

Unfortunately, their screen appeal is undermined slightly by the leap of faith the audience is expected to take by buying into a concatenation of patently-ludicrous, sci-fi contrivances employed to confound the Lord and his minions. An entertaining, if blasphemous mindbender suggesting that love conquers all, even the will of God.

Good (2 stars).

Running time: 99 Minutes.

OPENING THIS WEEK

Kam’s Kapsules:

Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun

For movies opening March 11, 2011

BIG BUDGET FILMS

Battle: Los Angeles (PG-13 for profanity, scenes of destruction and sustained, intense violence). Apocalyptic, sci-fi flick about a Marine platoon which represents the last hope for humanity in the wake of an alien invasion. Cast includes Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, Ne-Yo, Bridget Moynihan and Cory Hardrict.

Mars Needs Moms (PG for sci-fi action and scenes of peril). Intergalactic animated adventure about a 9 year-old boy (Seth Green) who comes to appreciate his mother (Joan Cusack) only after she is abducted by Martians. Voice cast includes Dan Fogler, James Earl Jones, Billy Dee Williams and Raymond, Ryan and Robert and Ochoa.

Red Riding Hood (PG-13 for violence, terror and some sensuality). Overhaul of the Grimm Brothers’ fairytale as a gothic love triangle in which a young woman (Amanda Seyfried) with two suitors (Shiloh Fernandez and Max Irons) learns that her sister has been slain under a full moon by the werewolf prowling the forest surrounding their village. With Virginia Madsen Julie Christie, Gary Oldman and Billy Burke.

INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS

3 Backyards (R for sexuality). Ensemble drama revolving around an eventful day-in-the-life of a trio of suburban New Yorkers: a miserably-married businessman (Elias Koteas) who meets a mysterious woman (Danai Gurira); a housewife (Edie Falco) who gives a famous actress (Embeth Davidtz) a ride to the ferry, and an 8 year-old girl (Rachel Resheff) who encounters a pervert (Wesley Broulik) on her way to school.

Black Death (R for profanity and graphic violence). Horror flick, set in medieval England during the outbreak of the bubonic plague, about a young monk (Eddie Redmayne) who volunteers to lead a band of mercenaries on a perilous trek to a remote region where a sorcerer is rumored to be bringing the dead back to life. With Carice van Houten, Kimberley Nixon and Sean Bean.

Brotherhood (R for sexuality, violence and pervasive profanity). Reality check drama about a college freshman (Trevor Morgan) pressured to participate in a cover-up after a fellow fraternity pledge (Lou Taylor Pucci) is shot during a convenience store robbery, which was supposed to be the final phase of their initiation. With Arlen Escarpeta, Jon Foster and Jennifer Sipes.

Certified Copy (Unrated). Bittersweet romance drama about a British art historian (William Shimell) who rendezvous with a French antiques dealer (Juliette Bonoche) from his past while in Tuscany to promote his new book. (In French, Italian and English with subtitles.) With Filippo Trojano, Adrian Moore and Agathe Natanson.

The Desert of Forbidden Art (Unrated). Cold War biopic about Igor Savitsky (1915-1984), the curator of a secret museum located behind the Iron Curtain where he risked his life to save over 40,000 works of art from destruction by Soviet censors who only appreciated Communist propaganda.

Elektra Luxx (R for nudity, profanity and graphic sexuality). Carla Gugino stars in the title role of this kinky comedy as a pregnant, former porn star doing her best to put her sordid past behind her. Cast includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Julianne Moore, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Timothy Oliphant, Malin Akerman and Kathleen Quinlan.

I Will Follow (Unrated). Bittersweet ensemble drama chronicling a day in the life of a woman (Salli Richardson-Whitfield) grieving the recent passing of the beloved aunt (Beverly Todd) for whom she quit her job and moved across country to care for. With Blair Underwood, Omari Hardwick, Tracie Thoms and Michole Briana White.

Jane Eyre (PG-13 for mature themes, a nude image and brief violence). Twenty-second screen adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s Victorian classic about a headstrong young governess (Mia Wasikowska) who, against her better judgment, finds herself falling for her abusive employer (Michael Fassbender). With Dame Judi Dench, Jamie Bell and Sally Hawkins.

Kill The Irishman (R for profanity, nudity, sexuality and graphic violence). Factual crime saga recounting the bloody turf war that unfolded during the summer of ’76 between the established Cleveland Mafia and a rival gang created by a renegade mobster (Ray Stevenson). A-list cast includes Christopher Walken, Val Kilmer, Vincent D’Onofrio, Vinnie Jones and Paul Sorvino.

Making The Boys (Unrated). Out-of-the-closet documentary revisiting The Boys In The Band, the groundbreaking Broadway play-turned-Hollywood film, which played a pivotal role in the rise of the gay rights movement 40 years ago. Featuring appearances by Ed Koch, Tony Kushner and Larry Kramer.

Monogamy (Unrated). Romance drama about a struggling photographer (Chris Messina) who finds himself torn between his fiancée (Rashida Jones) and the attractive client (Meital Dohan) who hires him to follow her around with a camera. With Zak Orth, Ivan Martin and Madison Arnold.

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