"The Adjustment Bureau" accomplishes a nifty trick: It turns a potentially dry treatise on free will versus fate into an action film.
We have novelist Philip K. Dick, who wrote the short story, "Adjustment Team," on which the screenplay is based, to thank for that.
"The Adjustment Bureau" posits the ultimate in conspiracy theories, with the Bureau an FBI or CIA of cosmic chiropractors who adjust one's fate.
The plot in "The Adjustment Bureau" unfolds not without a trace of amusement on the part of screenwriter-director George Nolfi, in his big-screen directorial debut. Nolfi wrote screenplays for "The Bourne Ultimatum" (2007) and "Ocean's Twelve" (2004).
There are elements of "An Affair to Remember" (romance lost and found), "Harry Potter" (fedoras as Sorting Hats; animated GPS maps), "Men in Black" (cadre of black-leather jacketed, helmeted "Bureau" men); "Inception" ("recalibration," "entire personality expunged"), and the "Bourne" series (the sense of double-dealing), "Brazil" (intimidation by paranoia) and any number of science-fiction thrillers.
We have Philip K. Dick to thank for much of that, too, since novelists, screenwriters and film-makers borrowed a page or two from his work ("A Scanner Darkly," "Minority Report") and "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale," which became "Total Recall," and "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?," which became "Blade Runner."
"The Adjustment Bureau" is enormously entertaining, thanks to Matt Damon as David Norris, a would-be New York Senate candidate who has a "meet cute" by chance encounter with Elise (Emily Blunt), an aspiring modern dancer.
The New York City and boroughs setting allows the director to show off all manner of landmarks (Waldorf-Astoria, Yankee Stadium, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, "Daily Show" anchor Jon Stewart).
Damon brings his enormous reservoir of, ahem, good will, to bear, starting with that smile that emanates from the lower left side of his mouth to engulf his generally impassive face. In the tradition of great screen actors, Damon expresses an interior life with a glint in his eye or gesture.
Blunt, as befits her name, is blunt with her facial and body intensity a counterpoint to Damon's passivity. They create credible on-screen chemistry.
In fine supporting roles are the Bureau's Harry (excellent Anthony Mackie), Richardson (brilliant John Slattery) and Thompson (always marvelous Terence Stamp).
The screenplay sketches clever connections: Damon's neckties and the ties humans create; Damon's scuffed shoes and Blunt's feet, barefoot in modern dance on stage and tortured in fashionista pumps on the street; and the loneliness of a politician that causes him to fill "the void inside" with applause and votes.
Is this a "Bureau" of angels? "We're more like case officers who live a lot longer than humans," Harry offers.
Overanalyze "The Adjustment Bureau" and it disappears like a waking morning dream. Save the Calvinist predestination debate for theology class (the film is a great jump-off point: Do we have free will, or "the appearance of free will?").
With Oscar season over, "The Adjustment Bureau" provides sheer, old Hollywood entertainment of considerable brilliance.
Will fate -- or free will -- bring you to "The Adjustment Bureau"?
"The Adjustment Bureau," MPAA Rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13) for brief strong language, some sexuality and a violent image; Genre: Romance, Thriller, Science Fiction; Run time: 1 hr., 45 min.; Distributed by Universal.
Credit Readers Anonymous: "The Adjustment Bureau" was filmed on location in New York City.
Box Office, March 4: The animated comedy, "Rango," voiced by Johnny Depp, opened at No. 1, with a solid $38 million, keeping "The Adjustment Bureau" at No. 2, opening with $20.9 million, and "Beastly" at No. 3, opening with $10.1 million.
4. "Hall Pass," $9 million, $27 million, two weeks; 5. "Gnomeo & Juliet," $6.9 million, $83.6 million, four weeks; 6. "Unknown," $6.6 million, $53.1 million, three weeks; 7. "The King's Speech," prompted by Oscar, held steady, No. 7 again, $6.5 million, $123.8 million, 15 weeks; 8. "Just Go With It," $6.5 million, $88.2 million, four weeks; 9. "I Am Number Four," $5.7 million, $46.4 million, three weeks; 10. "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never," $4.3 million, $68.8 million, four weeks; 11. "Take Me Home Tonight," $3.5 million, opening.
Unreel, March 11:
"Battle: Los Angeles," PG-13: Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez and Bridget Moynahan star in the science fiction thriller about an alien invasion.
"Jane Eyre," PG-13: Mia Wasikowski ("Alice in Wonderland"), Jamie Bell, Sally Hawkins and Judi Dench star in the drama based on the novel.
"Red Riding Hood," PG-13: "Twilight" director Catherine Hardwicke directs the Lehigh Valley's Amanda Seyfried as a young girl who falls in love with a woodcutter (Lukas Haas). The movie also stars Gary Oldman, Virgina Madsen and Julie Christie.
"Mars Needs Moms," Rated PG: Milo (Seth Green), a young boy, appreciates his mother (Joan Cusack) after Martians come for her in the stop-motion animated science-fiction film.
Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes