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Flying high with George Clooney and company in Up in the Air

by Mark Burger

Without question one of the year’s best and brightest films, Up in the Air is a sparkling adaptation of Walter Kirn’s novel, intelligently realized by screenwriters Jason Reitman, who also directed, and Sheldon Turner.

George Clooney brings his considerable charm and charisma to the role of Ryan Bingham, a corporate hatchet man who travels from city to city, firing employees of companies whom he’s never met before and likely never will again.

It’s indicative of Ryan’s life in general. He lives out of a suitcase. He flies from city to city, enjoying the perks his job affords him, and he’s so successful at what he does that he conducts seminars on the very subject.

Ryan is cheerfully disconnected from commitment and family. He’s been invited to the wedding of his younger sister (Melanie Lynskey) but hasn’t even met the groom (UNC School of the Arts alum Danny McBride) yet, and isn’t even aware that his other sister (Amy Morton) has broken up with her husband.

No, Ryan lives for his work and lives on his own terms. He finds a kindred (and very alluring) soul in fellow corporate frequent-flier Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), and the two begin a high-flying, no-strings-attached romance.

It’s only when his own company deliberates scaling back its travel expenditures that Ryan is goaded into action.

Accompanied by Natalie (Anna Kendrick), the young rookie who devised a new, more impersonal way to fire employees, Ryan shows her the ropes of how to deal with people — and along the way begins to slowly wonder if how he deals with people in his life doesn’t need a few adjustments.

In addition to being a witty and refreshingly adult romantic up comedy, Up in the Air offers some telling, and subtly rendered, commentary on the world today.

The film also offers its cast members the opportunity to shine in well-realized characterizations, none more so than Clooney and Kendrick, and proves that director Reitman, in only his third directorial outing (after Thank You for Smoking and Juno), is one of the more exciting young talents working in film today.

The onscreen pairing of Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker may attract some initial business, but Did You Hear About the Morgans? is a total failure on almost every level, made even more disappointing by the high caliber of the some of the talent on hand.

Grant and Parker are an affluent but unhappily married Manhattan couple whose lives are upended when they witness a murder and are whisked away to Ray, Wyo. by the Witness

Protection Program. It is there that they (predictably) are dumbfounded by the unsophisticated charms of the populace — who seem to have drifted in from the sets of Mayberry, circa 1962 — and (predictably) wind up giving their marriage a second chance.

Meanwhile, the killer (Michael Kelly) — whom the authorities have evidently forgotten about (those FBI agents are never seen again) — manages, with a minimum of effort or believability, to track the twosome down.

Desperately trying to be likable, Parker and Grant have no material to work with and therefore resort to triedand-true (read: tired and-rueful) sitcom shtick. Among the supporting players, the ever-luminous Mary Steenburgen looks wonderful in jeans, Wilford Brimley appears to be embalmed (his performance is scarcely more lively) and Sam Elliott puts more energy into his “Beef — it’s what’s for dinner” commercial voiceovers than he does here. There’s a formula to this: Give good actors good material and they generally do good work. Give good actors bad material and there’s not much they, or anyone else, can do.

Case in point.

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