Don't make the extra effort for 'Extra Man'

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

The Extra Man (R)

2 stars out of 4

With few exceptions ("Dave," "Trade," "The Big Chill"), Kevin Kline usually plays eccentric, off-beat characters and he's generally pretty good it at. The same can be said about Paul Dano, Kline's co-lead in "The Extra Man."

Both men do the eccentric thing in this film, and when it's all over we find out two things. One eccentric character per film is more than enough and eccentricity is not a viable substitute for a good story.

After losing his job as a high school English teacher, Louis (Dano) decides to move to Manhattan and become a writer. Counting every penny, he decides to share a cramped, dingy, low-rent apartment with the much older Henry (Kline), also an English teacher. Make that a part-time English teacher and a fulltime "extra man."

As Henry explains it, an extra man is the compensated, though not-quite hired, non-sexual escort for wealthy widows. The compensation comes in form of good food, good drink, free entertainment and rubbing elbows with the well-to-do. Henry fancies himself an aristocrat and social butterfly, and when on, he can be eminently charming. Most of the time, however, he's just a rigid poser with champagne tastes and a beer pocketbook. He's also an extreme moralist who describes himself as being "right of Hitler."

Louis views Henry with guarded fascination. The finer things don't impress him but befriending someone who could advance his career does, so he shows faint eagerness when Henry appoints him as his understudy. When not out with Henry and the blue hairs, Louis works for an environmental magazine and makes fumbling, mostly unsuccessful romantic overtures toward his co-worker Mary (Katie Holmes). He's also a closet cross-dresser.

If not high enough already, the eccentricity quotient hits toxic levels with the late arrival of John C. Reilly as Gershon, a bearded, frizzy-haired handyman who has an ongoing love/hate relationship with Henry. Visibly fearsome, Gershon speaks in a forced and fey falsetto, which presumably is designed to be ironically light-hearted but comes off as merely creepy and deathly unfunny.

Even though the performances of Kline and Dano can both be deemed as very good, they're wasted in a movie with an aimless plot that seems to exist solely as a showcase for its leads. Unless you're a devoted, die-hard fan of either Kline or Dano, you can wait for the DVD or go the route of video-on-demand -- available now. You won't even have to go out in order to be disappointed; you can do it in the privacy of your own living room. (Magnolia)