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The Extra Man (Magnolia Pictures, NR)

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At one point in A Bronx Tale Robert De Niro's character tells his son that there’s nothing sadder than wasted talent. That could be the epitaph for The Extra Man: a waste of everyone’s talents and of the audience’s time and money as well.

 

Several things made me optimistic going into the screening of The Extra Man. It’s directed by Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman, whose American Splendor was one of the best films of 2003. The screenplay is adapted from a well-regarded novel by Jonathan Ames and the film has an excellent cast, including St. Louis’s own Kevin Kline as well as Paul Dano, John C. Reilly and Marion Seldes. But, sometimes the best of ingredients still produce a mediocre result. That’s the case with this film, which is closer to The Nanny Diaries or The Pink Panther (2006 version) than it is to the best work of any of the principals involved.
The story of The Extra Man is that of Louis Ives (Dano), a prep school English teacher who fancies he’s living in the elegant age of F. Scott Fitzgerald instead of the rather grubbier turn of the 21st century. After his unfortunate habit of trying on ladies’ underwear in public forces him to leave his job in Princeton, he decides to try his luck in New York City. Rather improbably (through a newspaper want ad!), he finds lodgings with the eccentric Henry Harrison (Kline) who initiates him into the art of being an “extra man” or escort for wealthy elderly women. Louis also finds a job at an environmental magazine where a potential love interest presents itself in the person of Mary (Katie Holmes). Before long, he also becomes acquainted with Gershon (Reilly) who is almost hidden behind large quantities of hair and speaks in a bizarre, high-pitched voice but sings in the normal male range.
Springer and Berman were unable to find the right tone for their material, so even the most promising of premises tends to fall completely flat. Take Paul’s cross-dressing: he should be in seventh heaven in New York City. But instead of developing this aspect of his character, the film treats it as a cheap joke and the occasion for gags that are not only unfunny but also downright insulting. Maybe for their next film Springer and Berman can make fun of people’s religion or skin color or, even better, their physical disabilities. It wouldn’t be any more offensive than what they’ve done in The Extra Man.
The few laughs in this supposed comedy come from Kline—you haven’t lived until you’ve seen him trying to use a dog as a loofah or hide the threadbare nature of his socks by painting his ankles with shoe polish. Unfortunately his role is just a series of gags that don’t add up to anything and are so full of improbabilities (you begin to wonder if anyone connected with the film has actually been to New York) that the whole experience just becomes wearying. Kline is such a good actor, and it’s a pity he can’t seem to find better roles to showcase his talents.
The other characters are even thinner, seeming to consist almost entirely of their carefully planted quirks. Mary barely exists except as the stereotypical, uptight eco-priss, Reilly is one big sight and sound gag, and the talents of Marion Seldes (recipient of a Tony Lifetime Achievement Award) are completely wasted in the role of Vivian, one of the ancient society ladies who use Henry’s services.
At one point in A Bronx Tale Robert De Niro's character tells his son that there’s nothing sadder than wasted talent. That could be the epitaph for The Extra Man: a waste of everyone’s talents and of the audience’s time and money as well. | Sarah Boslaugh
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