The Adjustment Bureau is an enjoyable piece of hokum – your basic doom-laden parable of metaphysical sci-fi mind control, only with a surprise romantic sparkle. It's based on a 1954 short story by Philip K. Dick (called ''Adjustment Team''), but even as the film gives you a taste of Dick's crazy-visionary the corporation ate my brain! paranoia, it infuses that twisty gloom with a spirit that's lighter and almost playful. It's like Philip K. Dick meets Sliding Doors.
Matt Damon, beefy and gregarious, has just the right expansive yet guarded charisma to play David Norris, an on-the-rise political star who gets derailed (because of his not-quite-tamed frat-house side) in his bid to be a New York senator. In a luxe hotel men's room, just before his concession speech, he meets Elise, a free spirit and professional dancer who had ducked into one of the stalls. She's played by Emily Blunt, and in the extended scene that follows, she and Damon, jousting and then kissing, generate the rare connection that actually feels spontaneous.
Blunt, who has the big-eyed, straight-haired beauty of a '60s swinging-London model, is a magnificent flirt, with smiles that aren't just come-ons but an intriguingly telegraphed series of wishes and promises. And Damon makes David not only smitten but shocked, as if love had slapped him awake. Their bond grounds the entire movie. Because a little later, when David, now with a corporate job, wanders into an office he wasn't supposed to enter, he sees that everyone in the office has literally been frozen. And is being worked on. By men in fedoras and dark suits (led, in an ideal casting touch, by Mad Men's John Slattery) who look like '50s FBI agents as reimagined by Kafka. From that moment on, David's dream of love may not be an option.
Who are these American fascist Mad Men? I don't want to give away too much, but let's say two things: They control…a lot. And though creepy and sinister and all that, they're not nearly as black-and-white evil as you first think. The Adjustment Bureau is the thriller as glorified philosophical videogame, with David dashing through doors that are like looking-glass passageways, trying to wrench his destiny away from the forces that claim he has no free will. In many ways, this is a dated and rather gimmicky movie. Yet it's directed (by The Bourne Ultimatum's coscreenwriter George Nolfi) with a wide-eyed spirit. It taps into your longing for the days when a sci-fi matrix could explain the world without making it a darker place. B