Monday, February 28, 2011

Damon's wide-eyed perf makes "Informant!" great goof

The Informant! (2009) 
108 min., rated R.
Grade: B

The emphatic title with an exclamation point proves Steven Soderbergh might be a little too pleased with himself and his new movie, "The Informant!" But being played for laughs, it works as an odd, amusing, entertainingly wacky absurdist comedy. The always-exciting filmmaker seems to be taking the corporate misconduct from his "Erin Brockovich" and bits of the retro-coolness from his “Ocean's Umpteenth” movies, and concocting a freewheeling, satirical take on a straight-faced true story, based on Kurt Eichenwald's book. 

With a stenciled stache, wide-eyed glasses, bad toupe, and beer belly, Matt Damon is nearly unrecognizable and cast against type (doughier than usual, gaining an extra 30 pounds). Played with loony, geewiz cheerfulness, Damon is wonderfully deadpan here as nebbish, eccentric whistle-blower Mark Whitacre who makes Agent Maxwell Smart look like an egghead. The Ivy League biochemist works in an executive position for a giant corn conglomerate called Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), and once feeling uneasy about the company's malfeasance, Whitacre blames it on a mole and brings his concern to the FBI. With his only backer being wife Ginger (Melanie Lynskey), Special Agents Brian Shepard (Scott Bakula) and Bob Herndon (Joel McHale from TV's “The Soup”) come in and Whitacre goes in as an informant, turning in his bosses for a price fixing scheme, but as he keeps digging himself a deep hole, the lies just keep coming and don't quite add up. 

Like a stream of consciousness, Whitacre's mumbling internal voice-over musings about neckties and flossing are interestingly random and show just how fascinatingly wonky his brain is rather than having us identify with why he did what he did. Instead of being a substantial story about the self-deluded man's diagnosed Bipolar Disorder or the dumb, broad farce as being advertised, "The Informant!" is great goofy fun, with Marvin Hamlisch's jaunty, retro-burlesque music and a funky '70s vibe, all part of Soderbergh's light, buoyant touch. Though it has no real heart or emotional core, it's a 'toon of a trip and the joke seems to be on us. 

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