High on concept, low on execution, writer/director Sophie Barthes’ gray comedy of postmodern, existential panic never finds its balance before falling off the same kind of narrative wire that Being John Malkovich danced effortlessly on.
Just as in Spike Jonze’s film, where John Malkovich played himself, Paul Giamatti incarnates his life as a New York actor. Giamatti is having trouble finding his character's objectives in a stage version of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya when an article in The New Yorker introduces him to a company that specializes in putting clients' souls in cold storage, thereby relieving them of the enormous weight that the metaphysical emotional identity provides. David Strathairn plays Dr. Flintstein, the droll gentleman in charge of extracting and storing souls, with an embalmer’s bedside manner that momentarily promises a flash of comedy that never arrives.
Once being relieved of his soul, Giamatti loses his ability to act and returns to Dr. Flintstein, who advises him to try out the soul of a female Russian poet. The new concealed identity doesn't go over too well with Giamatti’s wife Claire (Emily Watson), and Giamatti is sent back to Dr. Flintstein to ask for his old soul back. The problem is that an aspiring actress in Russia has purloined it to help with her acting career.
The filmmakers didn't so much work out the film's ending as allow it to occur. You might get a chuckle from the idea of the movie, but you'll never get to laugh. Grade: C-
Opens Sept. 4. Check out theaters and show times, see the film's trailer and get theater details here.