Sure, Clooney dons his role as weary, love lost, corporate hatchet man with his usual old school debonair charm, just proving once again that he is the modern day Cary Grant (in both Grant's strengths and weaknesses) and it is this same said old school debonair charm which carries Up in the Air about as far as one (even one such as Clooney) can carry such a film. When all is said and done, and all the predictable plot points are all predictably plotted and pointed, we get exactly what anyone would expect from director Jason Reitman, the man who makes mediocrity seem almost hip (and yes, that is an insult!).
First, the son of the man who helped make the eighties what they were (for better or for worse) with Meatballs, Stripes and Ghostbusters, gave the world the blandish would-be incendiary comedy Thank You For Smoking. To top that he threw Juno at us with the snarkiest of underhand tosses and would watch as the reprehensible Diablo Cody-written moral travesty went on to get about five too many Academy Award nominations (it actually received four) and even an inexplicable victory for the annoying double speak screenplay by semi-literate stripper-turned-Oscar winner Cody. Now, with his inevitable third film, Reitman aims right for the middlest of middle roads. Turning mediocrity into a near art form (and yes, that is another insult!) Reitman engages in pleasing that middle class, mainstream moviegoer that Hollywood so wants to fawn all over, while at the same time attempting to give his film at least a modicum of (what he perceives as) arthouse integrity by making it quirky for quirky's sake. In other words, the same old same old.
Reitman's lack of anything interesting to say or do or direct notwithstanding, Up in the Air isn't as bromidic a film as Thank You For Smoking, nor is it as exasperating as Juno, yet it still manages, thanks mainly to Reitman's middlebrow anxieties and fair to middling boilerplate sensibilities, to be an awfully tedious bore. It's (almost) saving grace is that aforementioned old school debonair charm of Clooney, but even more so, the out-of-nowhere deft turn by (until recently unknown to this critic) Anna Kendrick as Clooney's hatchet man assistant-in-training. Stealing the show whenever she can, Kendrick tries her surprising best at turning Reitman's humdrum insipidity into a workable, (almost) enjoyable film. Too bad for us, and for all those involved in the making of Up in the Air, that enjoyable workability never comes off for much longer than when Kendrick steals the scene or Clooney puts on that old school debonair charm for as long as he can.
Well, at least all those garden-variety suburban moviegoers will get what they too perceive to be at least a modicum of arthouse integrity with their bi-weekly multiplex visit. [01/22/10]