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Bill Murray makes ‘St. Vincent’ real

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COURTESY ATSUSHI NISHIJIMA/THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY
Jaeden Lieberher
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Bill Murray, star of “St. Vincent,” once was under consideration as the lead in Terry Zwigoff's “Bad Santa.” It would have required him to play a drunken curmudgeon who is somewhat reformed by a nerdy, kindly child.

Now, in “St. Vincent,” he at last has the role. He plays Vietnam War veteran Vincent, whose expenses include booze; a pregnant, Russian prostitute, Daka (Naomi Watts); and fancy cat food for his squash-faced feline.

He lives in Brooklyn off of a reverse mortgage, which recently has run out. At the same time, newly divorced nurse Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and her sweet, but scrawny son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) move in next door.

With Maggie busy at work and Oliver picked on by bullies, Vin agrees to look after the kid for an hourly wage.

The movie adds, but forgets about, Terrence Howard as a debt collector on Vin's trail. The usual stuff follows, with Vin taking Oliver to the racetrack and to a bar, and teaching him how to fight the school bully. Oliver, on the other hand, teaches Vin that caring about someone isn't so bad. Several montages help spell things out.

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This formula has become a staple, and honestly, if Murray wasn’t the lead, the movie wouldn’t be worth much.

Murray is put to perfect use. His jerky behavior is not based on anger, but on a kind of freedom, and he’s quite appealing. Newcomer Lieberher makes a good, unflappable partner, and a nice foil for the master comedian.

Writer-director Theodore Melfi, in his first big movie, introduces the welcome theme of sainthood. Oliver's Catholic school teacher (Chris O'Dowd, very funny) asks his students to find a modern-day one. Very few would argue that Murray's Vincent doesn't qualify.

A decade ago, instead of taking “Bad Santa,” Murray made “Lost in Translation” and earned one of history's few Oscar nominations for a comic actor. Now, because the Oscar voters like accents and diseases (Vincent has a Brooklyn accent and recovers from a stroke), he's getting buzz about a possible second nomination.

Thankfully, Vin or Murray – (or it is both)? – does not seem to care about such things. As the movie ends, he takes to his lawn chair, caterwauling a Bob Dylan tune and spraying everything in sight, even his own slippers, with his garden hose. For a saint, this, not any award, could be the secret to true happiness.

REVIEW

St. Vincent

three stars

Starring: Bill Murray, Jaeden Lieberher, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts

Written and directed by: Theodore Melfi

Rated PG-13

Running time: 1 hour 43 minutes

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