Heavy topics are gingerly handled in "The Adjustment Bureau," possibly the breeziest movie yet to be adapted from a story by Philip K. Dick, the drug-fueled, possibly psychotic science-fiction writer who also inspired "Blade Runner," "Total Recall" and "Minority Report." Dick's original story addressed notions of insanity, death and God; the movie version mentions free will but is mostly concerned with love.
"The Adjustment Bureau" focuses on David Norris (Matt Damon), a young New York politician smitten with Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt), an aspiring dancer. On election night he discovers her in a most unlikely place: the hotel men's room. After a few minutes of electrically charged conversation, they leap into a kiss.
That wasn't The Plan, according to Richardson (John Slattery) and Harry (Anthony Mackie), members of a shadowy overcoat mafia called The Adjustment Bureau. Reluctantly, they reveal themselves to David as the folks who, through magic powers or mundane legwork, ensure that fates are sealed and destinies met. A threat of memory eradication is enough to keep David from blabbing. The pull of Elise, however, is strong.
Writer and debut director George Nolfi (who co-wrote "The Bourne Ultimatum") deftly juggles seriousness and self-satire, depicting the bureaucrats as beleaguered rank-and-filers ("I cannot catch a break in this case," Richardson says with a sign) even while treating the star-crossed lovers with great tenderness. Damon and Blunt are terrific together; it's impossible not to root for them.
All the wit and charm, however, are obliterated by the movie's sappy, preachy, thoroughly Hollywood ending. For a while there, "The Adjustment Bureau" almost escaped the inevitable.
Philip Dick: He's the write guy
BLADE RUNNER (1982)
Director Ridley Scott
Source "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" (novel)
Plot Harrison Ford plays a burnt-out operative charged with executing androids that have defied authority and returned to Earth from a space colony.
TOTAL RECALL (1990)
Director Paul Verhoeven
Source "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" (short story)
Plot Arnold Schwarzen-egger has one of his best roles as a construction worker whose memories might not reflect his actual past. The film won an Oscar for visual effects.
MINORITY REPORT (2002)
Director Steven Spielberg
Source "The Minority Report" (short story)
Plot Drug-addicted cop (Tom Cruise), who arrests people before they can commit murder, goes on the lam when he's targeted by his own "pre-crime" unit.
A SCANNER DARKLY (2006)
Director Richard Linklater
Source "A Scanner Darkly" (novel)
Plot The war on drugs is the jumping-off point for this tale of a narcotics detective (Keanu Reeves) who becomes hooked on an illegal substance.
- St. Louis Post-Dispatch