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Lifestyles of the Rich and Shameless

The Extra Man (2010)

Magnolia Pictures

New York's Upper East Side is lit up similar to a pinball machine in "The Extra Man," the natural home of chancers, eccentrics, predators and fruitcakes of every flavor. Clearly part of some universe not quite our own, the place exerts a magnetic pull on the loosely wound, the kind of neighborhood where fantasist and occasional gigolo Henry Harrison (Kevin Kline) can roam free without being chased down the street by men in white coats.

Based on Jonathan Ames's novel, the film throws together the endearingly bonkers Henry and the smaller-than-life Louis Ives, played by Paul Dano as if the blood was pooling in his feet. Right at home in Henry's orbit — i.e. about as other-worldly as a Martian — the well-meaning but cripplingly introverted Louis has a thing for F. Scott Fitzgerald and a wandering sense of gender identity. Henry, skilled in the ways of the boudoir and able to detect a loaded spinster from a thousand yards, takes Louis under his wing. Between them, they go fishing in social circles where the blood is blue along with the hair.

If nothing else, "The Extra Man" gives Mr. Kline the chance to unleash his inner Holy Fool, with dollops of his inner Fisher King thrown in for good measure. Permanently wounded by lack of funds and sciatica (and fleas), Henry meets fate's low blows head on. "You have a strange power over people," ponders Louis. "It's my constant disapproval. Some find it flattering," comes the stentorian reply. One of the great screen dingbats, Henry can energize a dinner party in much the same way as a bomb threat.

The film can't keep this tone up. Melancholy caricature can work effortlessly in New York novels, but on film the effort involved can feel more like bullying. Directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini showed in "American Splendor" that they know the mileage available from neurotic foibles, but "The Extra Man" gets stuck into issues of masculinity as well and the ground gets swampy. By the time Louis gives in to latent transvestism and squeezes into Katie Holmes's lingerie, the film's oddball charm has curdled a bit. John C. Reilly stages a late rescue effort, barreling on-screen as a neighbor who speaks like a castrato and looks like Captain Caveman, just when things were threatening to take a turn for the normal.


Opens on July 30 in New York and Los Angeles.

Directed by Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman; written by Mr. Pulcini, Jonathan Ames and Ms. Berman, based on the novel by Mr. Ames; director of photography, Terry Stacey; edited by Mr. Pulcini; music by Klaus Badelt; production designer, Judy Becker; costumes by Suttirat Larlarb; produced by Anthony Bregman and Stephanie Davis; released by Magnolia Pictures (United States). Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes. This film is rated R by M.P.A.A.

WITH: Paul Dano (Louis Ives), Kevin Kline (Henry Harrison), Katie Holmes (Mary), John C. Reilly (Gershon), John Pankow (George), Celia Weston (Lagerfeld), Patti D’Arbanville (Katherine), Lynn Cohen (Lois), Marian Seldes (Vivian), Dan Hedaya (Aresh) and Jason Butler Harner (Otto Bellman).


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