2 stars out of 4
Having first made his mark as the bully jock in the 2005 “Wedding Crashers,” Bradley Cooper has since become the industry’s go-to guy for all titles Brad Pitt turns down. This is not to say that Cooper doesn’t have the goods. He’s got those deep-blue peepers, chiseled features, the all-important permanent facial stubble and he can act about as well as Pitt — which is pretty good but not great.
While quite effective as one-third of the leads in “The Hangover” franchise and even better as the drug-fueled faux-genius in “Limitless,” Cooper was the absolute wrong guy to play the lead in “The Words.” As a party-boy, devil-may-care-type, Cooper is about the best Hollywood has at the moment, but as a tortured artist with questionable morals, he can’t quite cut it.
Like literally millions of others before him, Rory Jansen (Cooper) is bent on penning the Great American novel, yet is bereft of the raw talent to actually write it. His girlfriend/soon-to-be-wife Dora (Zoe Saldana) believes in him and is eminently patient; as is his father (J.K. Simmons), but even Rory is coming to the realization that although driven, he just can’t make it as a scribe.
During their honeymoon in Paris, Dora unknowingly stumbles upon something that proves to be the missing link for Rory’s success and though not immediate, it eventually becomes a watershed moment for him. After painstakingly failing to come up with that classic, Rory delivers to a publisher what will soon come to be regarded as a novel for the ages. In one fell swoop, Rory has squashed his father’s doubts, confirmed Dora’s confidence in him and cemented his position as a literary phenomenon.
Co-writer/directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal don’t even get through the opening credits before they rob themselves of their own thunder with the introduction of a parallel story that is not only unnecessary but also totally kills the mystery/thriller aspect of the main story. The filmmakers bring in Dennis Quaid as another writer and Olivia Wilde as his wanton groupie. This might have worked in another film, but it effectively sucks the living life out of “The Words.”
Showing up early on as a quasi-stalker/fan, Jeremy Irons somewhat makes up for the Quaid sub-plot debacle as an angry but calculating and measured World War II veteran with a deep, dark secret. Matching in a completely different, but equally menacing way his brief appearance in last year’s “Margin Call,” Irons and his character (known only as “The Old Man”), become an inspired, but wasted facet in a film that relies far too much on bungled flashback.
“The Words” is two-thirds of a great film and the antithesis of the less-is-more storytelling mindset. If you’re making a thriller with morality-play undertones, you need to keep it simple and you don’t ever over-explain the plot. You also don’t wimp out with an ending that is neither ironic nor poetic. At some point in the narrative or to some degree in their own respective arcs, every character with a significant speaking role loses their backbone and in the process, whatever respect, believability or fondness we might have had for the lot of them completely vanishes. (CBS)