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EXTRA MAN, THE (director/writer: Robert Pulcini/Shari Springer Berman; screenwriter: Jonathan Ames/based on the novel by Mr. Ames; cinematographer: Terry Stacey; editor: Robert Pulcini; music: Klaus Badelt; cast: Paul Dano (Louis Ives), Kevin Kline (Henry Harrison), Katie Holmes (Mary), John C. Reilly (Gershon), John Pankow (George), Celia Weston (MeredithLagerfeld), Patti D’Arbanville (Katherine Hart), Lynn Cohen (Lois Huber), Marian Seldes (Vivian), Dan Hedaya (Aresh), Jason Butler Harner (Otto Bellman), Alicia Goranson(Sandra), Alex Burns (Brad); Runtime: 108; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Anthony Bregman/Stephanie Davis; Magnolia; 2010)
“Wacky comedy.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Co-director and co-writer, the husband-and-wife teamof Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman (“The Nanny Diaries”/””American Splendor”), base their wacky comedy on an acclaimed 1998 book by Jonathan Ames, who is also a co-writer.

The polite, soft-spoken, bland young English teacher, Louis Ives (Paul Dano), gets fired from an elite Princeton, New Jersey prep school for modeling a bra while waiting to meet the head mistress. He therefore comes to Manhattan to find himself. Answering an ad in a newspaper, he becomes the roommate of the eloquent asexual Henry Harrison (Kevin Kline), an eccentric elderly struggling playwright living on a marginal income as a part-time college English teacher. The apartment is decorated with Christmas balls, placed in a bowl in the living room. Henry, who gladly admits his sexual views are “to the right of the Pope,” won’t allow guest overnight in his apartment. The spirited classy hustler shows the out-of-towner how to sneak into the opera and how to get invited to fancy dinner parties and cultural events as an escort (here called an extra man) to rich old widows–with the perks being free meals and other possible considerations (though the subject of sexual favors never comes up).

The quirky comedy has a few wildly insane moments, that give the pic a needed jolt.

Louis, obsessed with the classic American literature of the 1920s, like F. Scott Fitzgerald, scores a bottom-wrung job, in sales, on a small environmental magazine, where the timid lad fails to win the heart of his manipulative attractive cause-chasing, vegan, green lifestyle young co-worker (Katie Holmes) and learns the hard way that he really doesn’t want to be a cross-dresser after a few failed experiments with pros. Mentored by Henry, the protégé is introduced as an extra man and because of his good manners becomes a hit with the manipulative wealthy old widows.

Other characters pop up such as John C. Reilly as a high-voiced, unkempt bearded, subway mechanic hermit neighbor (whose forced kooky role doesn’t fit into the pic); Jason Butler Harner plays Henry’s former roommate who was kicked out by the uptight Henry; Celia Weston as the plump female escort and rival of Henry’s; and Lynn Cohen and Marian Seldes (in small but winning roles) as the sweet elderly monsters who need Henry’s service as an escort. These zany characters shadow the mismatched roommates adding more kookiness, as the coming-of-age pic becomes too bent out of shape by so many kooks sharing the spotlight–though overall it’s quite charming despite never becoming a scream.

REVIEWED ON 12/20/2010 GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”