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'The Adjustment Bureau' starring Matt Damon mixes science fiction and romance, with flat results


The Adjustment Bureau could be dubbed The Boring Identity. It actually features Matt Dmaon and Emily Blunt in 'The Adjustment Bureau.' Photo courtesy of Universal.the same screenwriter, same star, and some of the same feel. Well, in the last ten minutes at least. The remaining 90 minutes are an empty, silly, and not terribly clever mishmash of romantic drama and paranoid thriller.

The film opens with Matt Damon’s character David Norris running for senate. He’s the people’s candidate, clearly, and has the youth vote to propel him to the top. As mentioned during the opening, he’s the kind of government official who once benefitted from a nasty bar fight, one which propelled his career. All of those honest moves paid off, and Norris seems a shoe in for the New York Senate seat.

All of that hope comes to a crashing thud however when the NY Post runs an old picture of David pulling a lewd college prank. This sends the polls plummeting, and he loses the election. Right before his defeat speech, he runs into a beautiful woman named Elise (Emily Blunt) in the men’s bathroom. Even in those brief moments, she completely reawakens his sense, and though she runs off in the night, he carries the elated feeling over to his defeat speech, which makes major headlines.


Shortly after the election, David gets up in the early morning to catch a bus so that he can start his new job at a city law firm. As he enters the park, the camera pans across a mysterious figure with a hat watching him. Little is revealed, but a brief phone call indicates that this shady man is to make sure David spills his morning coffee, causing him to change and thus preventing him from accessing the bus. When this goes haywire, and he winds up on the bus with the beautiful Elise, all hell breaks loose.

Soon after, David arrives in his office only to unintentionally walk in to an alternate universe of sorts, with employees literally frozen in time. During the madness he is attacked by several of these cloaked men, who knock him unconscious.
Upon awakening, David is informed by the men that they are part of a bureau that watches his every move and makes sure his life goes as planned. One small step means that the entire thing must be adjusted to keep things on track. The hats they all wear are revealed to give them supernatural powers, lending the ability to pass through walls and time in seconds. They decide to let David go, but warn him that if one word is uttered about their existence, his permanent memory will be erased for good.

The kicker of the whole thing is that the bureau advises David he must never see Elise again. Of course, this drives David mad and throughout the next three years. There are a series of intense encounters where he is trying effortlessly to be with her, while the bureau creates countless obstacles to tear them apart.

The Adjustment Bureau is Philip K. Dick lite. The movie presents itself to have something profound to say regarding fate and love, when in reality the message is fairly elementary. The pace of the film is sluggish, disconnected and poorly executed by director George Nolfi. The whole thing borders on silly for most of the time, with these mystery men exuding such a sense of self-seriousness that the whole thing practically falls into parody.

Finally, a movie with this kind of unabashed romantic angle sails or falls with chemistry of its co-stars. Emily Blunt and Matt Damon are two fine actors, but neither creates real heat here. There is some general pleasantness, but the audience never gets caught up in their plight. This is partly due to a script that insufficiently creates any sense of real danger, but also due to an awkward coupling of two individuals that possesses little spark.

The Adjustment Bureau is harmless, but more than a bit disappointing. Those expecting an action movie will wonder where all the action is. Those wanting a heart bleeding romance will be left stone called. The movie fails on both fronts, and thus no one will likely be leaving this affair satisfied.  One foolish critic cited the film “more clever than Inception.” He should pass us whatever he’s been smoking.

Contact Jim Teti at jteti@philly2philly.com

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Photos by Universal