Thursday, February 3, 2011

"Extra Man" explodes with quirks and doesn't work

The Extra Man (2010) 
108 min., rated R.
Grade: C

Writing-directing team Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (behind "American Splendor" and "The Nanny Diaries") adapt Jonathan Ames' 1998 novel in "The Extra Man," a queerly light-as-a-feather-boa curio. It means to delight, but the film is like a vaudeville, pre-Woody Allen time warp that's OD'ed on whimsy. The New York City in "The Extra Man" is an otherworldly place with odd, mannered eccentrics. 

Paul Dano plays Louis, a gawky, sensitive young man who exists out of the present time (like say, a 1920s-era novel like his favorite, “The Great Gatsby”) and has a strange fascination for cross-dressing. He reads a room-for-rent ad and moves in with a dandy gentleman, the gadabout playwright Henry Harrison (Kevin Kline), who appears sexless but acts as a gigalo. They both share a fancy for opera, while Louis shows a secret interest in tranny bars and becomes Henry's “extra man.” 

Kline brings his Kliney wit and color to the unpredictable, larger-than-life Henry. He's the most amusing, mirthful thing in the film and really the only interesting character. It's just too bad "The Extra Man" wasn't solely about this class-act man. The always-understated Dano is a rather soggy protege. John C. Reilly randomly shows his face behind a full-grown beard and shaggy ogre hair, with a tone-deaf voice, as Henry's neighborly friend Gershon. Celia Weston and Marian Seldes do what they can in underwritten roles as wealthy widows. And a too-earnest, caffeinated Katie Holmes plays a vegan co-worker at Louis's environmental-magazine workplace that shows no interest in him. Kline endears, but "The Extra Man" is unctuous and unfocused. 

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