Try digitalPLUS for 10 days for only $0.99

Movies

Entertainment Movies

'The Words' bound by a purloined book ★★ 1/2

"The Words" is a peculiar, old-school beast to encounter in the movie year 2012, lacking utterly in computer-generated effects, not to mention Avengers and masked superheroes in general. It's more or less a grown-up picture, and not bad at that, though its muted and patient style (mitigating a multilayered and not wholly satisfying narrative) has both its merits and its drawbacks. Still, as I say: not bad.

It tells three stories, and it's up to the viewer to determine how much they intersect and who's responsible for what fabrication. Dennis Quaid starts things off, which is good, because this is one of his best recent performances, full of sly charisma and an undercurrent of gnawing insecurity. He plays a successful novelist delivering a public reading of his latest work, "The Words." Olivia Wilde, her eyes dancing with I'm-in-lust-with-my-literary-hero, portrays a graduate student working on her dissertation and determined to make contact with the star of the evening. At the cocktail reception following the Manhattan reading, they strike up a conversation. It is clear where it may lead.

Most of the film, however — written and directed by the debut feature team of Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal — illustrates the love story from which Quaid's character reads aloud. In that one, top-billed and executive producer Bradley Cooper is a struggling novelist married to a woman (Zoe Saldana) with whom he honeymoons in Paris. There, in an old consignment shop, they find a nifty ancient satchel, which she buys him as a gift.

Back home in New York City, the writer discovers a manuscript inside the satchel. It's a World War II-era love story, on the quality level of Hemingway's finest pre-WWII work. The writer, initially by accident but mostly by morally indefensible design, decides to pass the story off as his own. It gets published. It makes him famous, and rich. And soon the actual, unsung author of the work, played with scraggly relish by Jeremy Irons, enters the picture.

The way "The Words" toggles back and forth between the "fictional" stories and the "real," present-day one, recalls a Nicholas Sparks "Notebook"-y affair, albeit with a lot less creamy romance and balderdash. Cooper clearly has an affinity for arrogant, somewhat shifty protagonists (a la the recent "Limitless"), though there are times when his sense of cool comes off simply as cold, and when he seems more like a set of whitening strips in search of an actor. The film, a busy bee in terms of its storylines, doesn't quite come together the way it could, or should. But this writer-director team at least presumes an audience can pay attention if it chooses to, or else simply relax and enjoy an attractive cast wrestle with various crises of conscience.

mjphillips@tribune.com

'The Words' -- 2 1/2 stars

MPAA rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language and smoking)

Running time: 1:41

Opens: Friday

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • Top 50 superhero movies of the last 10 years

    Top 50 superhero movies of the last 10 years

    Since 2002 there have been arguably 50 movies about superheroes. Arguably, because genre is tricky; it's often variations on a theme, and some variations are less obvious than others. ("Star Wars," for instance, a bit of a space western, is no one's picture of the western genre.) Oh, also: Because...

  • 10 movies to see this fall

    10 movies to see this fall

    Chicago Tribune movie critic Michael Phillips picks 10 films you should check out opening this fall.

  • 'Samsara' a study in contrasts ★★★

    'Samsara' a study in contrasts ★★★

    Gorgeous and a tiny bit bubble-headed, full of ancient ruins and marvelous faces and time-lapse landscapes of crazed LA freeways in action, "Samsara" takes its title from a Sanskrit word that translates, roughly, to "the ever-turning wheel of life."

  • 'Bachelorette': Dysfunctional wedding redux, with added raunch ★★

    'Bachelorette': Dysfunctional wedding redux, with added raunch ★★

    You could, if you wanted, sit in a dark theater and simply check off the similarities between the blockbuster "Bridesmaids" and this fall's "Bridesmaids" knockoff, titled "Bachelorette."

  • 'Magic Mike XXL' review: The complete package

    'Magic Mike XXL' review: The complete package

    "Magic Mike XXL" comes up a little short compared with the original, director Steven Soderbergh's blithe and bonny Channing Tatum showcase inspired by Tatum's salad days as a male stripper. This time the jokes are heavier, more on-the-nose, though a surprising percentage of them work anyway.

  • 'Terminator Genisys' review: Rooting for the apocalypse

    'Terminator Genisys' review: Rooting for the apocalypse

    Humanity gets a do-over in "Terminator Genisys," the fifth in the franchise begun in 1984 with "The Terminator." But this screwy revision of the previous "Terminator" movies is so muddled and yakky, you may find yourself rooting for the apocalypse. At one point Arnold Schwarzenegger is thrown through...

  • 'Me and Earl and the Dying Girl' a mash note to movies

    'Me and Earl and the Dying Girl' a mash note to movies

    The big noise from this year's Sundance Film Festival, "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" is a weaselly liar of a movie. (It's also good.) It comes on full of self-deprecating bluster, professing no interest in jerking tears a la "The Fault in Our Stars," as it lays out its tale of a Pittsburgh high...

  • 'A Little Chaos' review: Garden variety costume drama

    'A Little Chaos' review: Garden variety costume drama

    "A Little Chaos" is all too tidy as it imposes a predictable, pat modern sensibility on a most unconvincing depiction of late 17th-century French aristocratic life, with Kate Winslet starring as a green-thumbed widow hired to design part of the gardens at Versailles for Alan Rickman's Louis XIV....

Comments
Loading

73°