Day 98: 'The Extra Man'

At Day 98, I’m willing to give a little slack to the defiantly oddball indie comedy The Extra Man. That won’t stop hordes of filmgoers from wanting their money back (that seemed to be the consensus at my screening), but if you’re willing to just be a little charitable (hey, it could be Cats & Dogs 2), there are some fun things going on in this eccentric character study.

The story centers on a strange, cross-dressing, aspiring young writer named Louis Ives (Paul Dano), who moves to Manhattan and sublets an apartment from Henry Harrison (Kevin Kline in fine form), a self-described aristocrat who lacks little in the self-confidence department. He’s supposedly a teacher, but his real employment involves acting as the “extra man” (i.e. – escort) to wealthy, older women willing to put up with his prideful shenanigans in order to avoid living out their days alone.

The corny, older gentleman takes young Louis under his wing, and what follows are a lot of kooky situations that involve Louis and Henry sneaking into operas, placating their elderly dates over wine and caviar, and interacting with an even weirder, bearded resident down the hall (John C. Reilly, two months removed from a bath and a shave, and sounding for some strange reason like Minnie Mouse). Katie Holmes co-stars as Mary, Louis’s environmental activist co-worker who won’t give him the time of day.

Unfortunately for the film, a lot of the kookiness seems forced…or at least overly aggressive. Visits to the local transvestite bar and a veteran escort are caught somewhere between realism and pathetic drama. The film balks at easy sentimentality, but it’s too bad that it's only half as funny as it wants to be. The best part of the movie – and the source of most of its comedy – is master thespian Kline, who easily assumes his most humorous role since Otto the assassin in A Fish Called Wanda. His over-the-top attitude is worth the admission – but just barely.

As much as I’m somewhat lukewarm on the movie, I can definitely say it’s unlike everything else I’ve seen this summer, which makes it yet another special experience on the trek. Now, I'm off to a midnight screening of Eat Pray Love, which, for Day 99, should be far removed from this movie and our final, explosive screening of The Expendables Saturday afternoon…nothing like going out with a bang, eh?

Kevin Kline fans, let’s hear what you think. You’ll enjoy his performance in this movie, if not the movie itself. And the actor is still one of our most diverse talents, equally adept at drama and comedy. Which do you prefer? Something more serious like his work in The Big Chill or his mostly silent cowboy hero in Silverado…or his roles in comedies like Wanda and I Love You to Death?

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