"Diminished Capacity" rests on the fate of a small item of great value, a Chicago Cubs baseball card—Frank "Wildfire" Schulte, 100 years old, near-mint condition. Cub-wise it's a good year to bring this story to the screen. In his feature film directorial debut, Steppenwolf Theatre Company founder Terry Kinney demonstrates a light, sure touch with actors Matthew Broderick, Alan Alda and Virginia Madsen, plus several of Kinney's Steppenwolf colleagues, among them Jeff Perry (as a newspaper editor) and Lois Smith (as Broderick's mother).
But striving for low-key character comedy, "Diminished Capacity" ends up diminishing its returns. Sherwood Kiraly's story, which he adapted from his own 1995 novel, showcases Broderick as Cooper, a Chicago newspaperman recovering, unsteadily, from a severe concussion. He forgets things and has been sidelined to proofing the comics until he's back in shape. Then he's called back home to rural Missouri: His Uncle Rollie (an aggressively ingratiating Alda, giving 125 percent) won't give up his house, even though he's unfit to manage on his own.
Each new development of Kiraly's narrative slides into place a little too easily. Cooper reacquaints himself with the One Who Got Away (Madsen), conveniently single. Uncle Rollie wants to cash in on his prized possession, the Frank Schulte card.
The whole gang carpools to Chicago for a memorabilia convention. Dylan Baker and Bobby Cannavale have fun as rival traders, one good, one nasty. The film is easy to take, but the stakes feel low, and Kinney struggles for the right tone with some of the wilder developments in the last stretch.
No director, really, could make certain conceits work. I'm talking about Rollie's poetry-typing fish, or the burglar who comes every night to try to steal Rollie's card.
Whimsy is the most elusive quality on the planet; it has to emerge from character, or you're stuck in Coyville. You know what's missing from "Diminished Capacity"? More offhanded moments such as the one, late in the story, when Madsen's Charlotte playfully teases her son, saying something innocuous about a look he's just given her. It's nothing, really, just a few seconds. But a day after seeing "Diminished Capacity," it's the moment I remember.
See the trailer and find local showtimes for "Diminished Capacity."