“The Adjustment Bureau” is a metaphysical thriller about love, fate, free will and some rather novel hat tricks. It centers on a politician whose love for a dancer puts him in dangerous conflict with cosmic authorities when it bucks destiny’s master plan.
Buoyed by breezy direction and terrific actor rapport, the movie is a potential springtime sparkler. But a dearth of original ideas and a reliance on Hollywood hooey as a romantic condiment bring it down.
Writer-director George Nolfi, whose screenplays include “The Bourne Ultimatum” and “Ocean’s Twelve,” makes a competent directorial debut while proving frustrating at the keyboard with this mushed-up adaptation of a story by sci-fi notable Philip K. Dick.
Nolfi alum Matt Damon plays David Norris, an ascending New York politician who, after losing an election, has a meet-cute encounter with talented dancer Elise, played by Emily Blunt.
She inspires him to deliver a knockout concession speech, then kisses him and vanishes. He’s smitten, and mysterious hat-wearing men lurk.
The fedora-topped men are bureaucrats, or perhaps angels, from an otherworldly agency that protects humanity from its baser tendencies by ensuring that individuals stay on their intended paths. When somebody strays, these operatives intercede to adjust things.
In the case of David, whose feelings for Elise might affect his political future, major intervention is deemed necessary. He must abandon the woman of his dreams and tell nobody about the bureau’s existence, David is warned. If he disobeys, he’ll be “reset.”
Eventually, of course, David pursues Elise. A magic hat allows him to travel through secret portals and passages. The two become lovers on the run, chased by bureaucrats.
Agilely steered by Nolfi, the film often succeeds as engaging serio-fluff. The effects don’t upstage the characters. The hat bits are amusing. The chase, featuring Manhattan landmarks, compelling.
Damon and Blunt — he’s dynamic with a shade of broodiness, she’s classy with a screwball tinge — click wonderfully.
But such merits exist largely at the surface level, and eventually we feel as if we’re watching a lightened version of “Inception” infused with traces of “Wings of Desire.” We’d like some real ideas to ponder.
More problematic still, the romance that Nolfi has added to Dick’s story is love-conquers-all hokum, complete with cliches such as a decision by the heroine to return to her ex when she wrongly believes her true beloved has ditched her.
The resolution to David and Elise’s quandary is silly. These characters, and the actors playing them, deserve something smarter. The supporting cast includes Anthony Mackie, John Slattery and Terence Stamp — all entertaining but shortchanged in their roles as bureaucrats.
The Adjustment Bureau
Starring Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie, John Slattery
Written and directed by George Nolfi
Running time 1 hour 39 minutes