THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON:

No matter how unique a movie’s premise may be, if it lacks a unifying idea or theme to wrap itself around, then it functions as a lowly creative gimmick. That’s my explanation for why this ambitious but substance-lacking work about a man (Brad Pitt) who ages backwards and his lifelong romance with a woman (Cate Blanchett) who grows old like the rest of us never really gels into the kind of excellent film it had the potential to be. The main culprit is screenwriter Eric Roth (ALI, MUNICH) who “rips himself off” by incorporating many of the elements and motifs that he used in FORREST GUMP (1994). There’s a guy with a physical “disability” who lives in the Deep South, loves a woman he’s known since childhood, works on a boat and finds himself in historical settings dating from World War II to Hurricane Katrina. Need I say more? If that weren’t enough, the movie weighs itself down with a number of totally unnecessary sequences which include the title character’s encounter with his biological father (Jason Flemyng) who deserted him at birth and an affair with the wife (Tilda Swinton) of a British spy. Very loosely adapted from a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, who wrote it as a comic farce, BUTTON as a film takes itself so seriously that it almost demands that viewers and Oscar voters react emotionally to it. (Don’t be surprised if the latter group falls for the bait.) This is not to say that I thought this film worthless. The cinematography, costumes and make-up are excellent and Pitt (12 MONKEYS) will likely get a Best Actor nomination from Academy Award pollsters who gravitate toward leading men in showy roles playing a character with a “handicap.” What it didn’t accomplish was making me care one iota about anyone in the movie and I found that to be its most fatal flaw.

10 MOVIES AND THEIR RELEASE DATES TO WATCH FOR IN 2009: WATCHMEN (March 6), X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (May 1), TERMINATOR SALVATION (May 22), UP (May 29), LAND OF THE LOST (June 5), THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1-2-3 (June 12), YEAR ONE (June 19), PUBLIC ENEMIES (July 1), HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE (July 17), JULIE AND JULIA (August 7)