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'Men, Women & Children' review: Tired morality tale draped in tech

Ansel Elgort appears in a scene from

Ansel Elgort appears in a scene from "Men, Women & Children." Photo Credit: AP / Dale Robinette

The time is now and the place is Earth, as "Men, Women & Children" informs us in an opening voice-over. Specifically, "an unremarkable suburb" where folks go about their daily lives -- making friends, cheating on spouses, hiding from reality. An age-old story, perhaps? Yes, but with a difference: That awe-inspiring invention known as the Internet.

Directed and co-written by Jason Reitman from Chad Kultgen's novel, "Men, Women & Children" weaves several story lines together using the tendrils of technology and seems to be telling us how much worse our lives are for it. Consider it a public service announcement about the perils and pitfalls of life in the Information Age.

Each story provides a cautionary tale. There's Tim (Ansel Elgort), the boy who hides from family problems by playing too many video games. He likes Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever), but her overprotective mother (Jennifer Garner) tracks her phone usage like a one-woman NSA. Conversely, Donna (Judy Greer) is posting racy pictures of her daughter, Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia), a wannabe actress. Hannah wants to hook up with cute classmate Chris (Travis Tope), but his Internet porn consumption has stoked his fantasies beyond human satisfaction. Meanwhile, Chris' unhappy parents (Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt) are secretly using online escort sites and a real-life "married dating" service that enjoys some fantastic product placement here.

As the narratives build toward their predictable conclusions, "Men, Women & Children" seems wholly unaware that these various evils existed long before Facebook and Instagram. Fine performances from Sandler and DeWitt help give their story line an emotional underpinning, but only one situation here -- Chris' debilitating porn habit -- feels genuinely relevant (and even that was explored with more humor and sensitivity in last year's "Don Jon"). Emma Thompson narrates in the voice of a detached, disdainful God.

Reitman is a director who likes to keep current: From his abortion-themed dramedy "Juno" to his recession-driven drama "Up in the Air," his movies always touch a topical nerve. "Men, Women & Children," however, misses its mark. It's less a modern-day fable than a case of old-fashioned moralizing.

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