DOWNSIZING: Conflicted men questioning their choices and values in life have been central characters in the films of director Alexander Payne (ABOUT SCHMIDT, THE DESCENDANTS). In this imaginative work, his protagonist is a financially strapped occupational therapist (Matt Damon) who decides that the most practical way for him and his wife (Kristen Wiig) to “live large” is to undergo a procedure to get themselves “miniaturized” to .0364% of their normal body mass and volume. Speculative fiction collides with biting social satire when the couple learn that their oh-so middle class portfolio will transform them into millionaires in their affluent, “small world” of a subdivision known as LeisureLand that comes complete with a time share style sales pitch from none other than Neil Patrick Harris (GONE GIRL) and Laura Dern (WILD). But when Wiig (BRIDESMAIDS) gets last second cold feet and bails on getting shrunk, Damon (THE MARTIAN) is once again left to fend for himself in yet another new and strange world. If good actors are never caught acting then I suppose that truly great visual effects never look like visual effects as they do here. The whole “miniaturization operation” is cleverly choreographed with the recipients literally being scooped up into their recovery beds with Rolfe Kent’s whimsical accompanying background music. Phedon Papamichael’s photography offers up some nifty sleights of hand with a visual perspective of life through the lens of persons who give definite meaning to the phrase height-challenged. It’s a wildly creative premise that plays out with more depth than the creative one-trick pony it could have been…at least in the first half. Thereafter, Payne and Jim Taylor’s screenplay takes a left turn by introducing a storyline involving Damon’s ill-suited relationship with a Vietnamese dissident (Hong Chau) that lacks the crucial element of believability. The narrative devolves into the dreaded message movie that feels didactic and heavy-handed as it squanders the watchability of Christoph Waltz (DJANGO UNCHAINED) who’s given precious little to do as a hedonistic neighbor. Eventually, the story, lacking a satisfactory center, takes an intriguing concept down a potentially promising path only to wind up with a disappointingly generic nice guy character whose main revelation is that whatever world you live in will have pockets of the poor and less fortunate. Gosh. Who saw that one coming? CRITIC’S GRADE: C