Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles is an amiable period-piece showbiz comedy set in 1937, when Welles, then 22, first blasted his way into the orbit of fame with his Mercury Theatre production of Julius Caesar. There’s one great reason to see the movie, and that’s Christian McKay’s performance as Welles. He looks just like him — the boy-man face rounded out with a little too much baby fat, the eyes that twinkle with all-knowing charm. And McKay does an altogether uncanny impersonation of Welles the debonair egomaniac, who cut a swath through the Broadway world of stunned producers and leggy chorus girls. McKay gets that melting-butter voice to a T, and he makes the energy of Welles’ genius contagious.
I wish I could say that the whole film was that good. Linklater has framed the weeks of rehearsal leading up to the premiere of Julius Caesar as the story of a naive young actor who talks his way into Welles’ stock company. But Zac Efron, who plays this bushy-tailed rube, is mostly a cute blank here; when he woos the Mercury Theatre’s secretary (Claire Danes), we seem to have landed in one of Woody Allen’s more halfhearted fables. Except for McKay, Me and Orson Welles has so little fire that Welles himself would have wondered out loud what he was doing stuck in the middle of it. B-