16 August 2008 | moonspinner55
Eckhart's fabulous comic performance nearly saves strident send-up of human principles...
Whoever could have guessed that suave, manicured, handsome-devil Aaron Eckhart would become our next great sad-sack comedian? The rubber-face which Eckhart uses here, playing a disgruntled, disappointed, directionless human resources exec at his father-in-law's bank, is nothing short of remarkable. Cast as middle-aged Bill, Eckhart is extremely courageous and focused--too focused to become a ham, yet silly and flexible enough to keep this bumpy comedy buoyant and entertaining. The tone of the picture is half-black comedy/half-upper class satire, with possibly too many targets and characters on its plate. Still, the women in Bill's life (Elizabeth Banks as his cheating spouse and Jessica Alba as a friendly neighborhood salesgirl) each have their strong moments, and Eckhart's scenes with his gay brother and assorted in-laws are pungent and ripe with nearly-realized stinging possibilities. What doesn't quite work is the sub-plot with a mouthy teenager choosing Bill to be his "mentor" (also, a duck-hunting sequence with Bill's wife's family is also flabby, its only purpose demonstrating their need to humiliate Bill--and he being oblivious). The filmmakers are careful to let Bill be his own person--he's often a target, but rarely is he victimized. It's to Eckhart's credit that this stepped-on character remains likable and respectable (no pathos or pity here, and none are necessary). Whether entertaining guests in his camping tent or getting his weary body back into shape, Bill is lurching, funny, struggling, and very human. I didn't quite buy the happy ending, with its vitriolic "I don't where I'm going, but I'm excited" sentiments, but Aaron Eckhart makes this guy a joy--and for a knockabout, second-string comedy, that's a real achievement. **1/2 from ****