Attention, anyone wondering whether free will or determinism drives the cosmos: Put down your Spinoza, because The Adjustment Bureau has the answer you’ve been looking for: It’s a little from Column A and a little from Column B. That only sounds like a spoiler. Freely adapted from the 1953 Philip K. Dick short story “Adjustment Team,” The Adjustment Bureau pulls back the curtain on the way things work soon after the up-and-coming politician played by Matt Damon wanders into his office and finds John Slattery scanning the head of Damon’s seemingly unconscious co-worker with a strange device. Suitably freaked out, Damon flees, only to be captured and have Slattery explain they’re supernatural agents working for “The Chairman” to keep “the plan” on track.
Apparently people have free will, but need a shove in the right direction every once in a while. Damon just happens to have stumbled on the men who do the shoving. And in spite of their matching suits and humorless dispositions, they aren’t bad guys. In fact, they stop just short of telling Damon they’re angels. It’s like The Matrix, as remade by the Hallmark Channel. But angels or not, they have no intention of letting Damon diverge from the plan, even if that means keeping him away from the love of his life, free-spirited dancer Emily Blunt. Can true love transcend the will of God… errr, The Chairman?
Heck if The Adjustment Bureau knows, or even knows what sort of movie it’s supposed to be. After scrubbing Dick’s concept of its paranoid underpinnings, writer-director George Nolfi is left with the setup for an old-fashioned supernatural romance like Topper or The Bishop’s Wife, plus a central couple with unusually strong chemistry. Unfortunately, the film keeps Damon and Blunt apart more often than it brings them together, making it hard to keep that chemistry alive. Worse, The Adjustment Bureau never establishes any stakes. Damon is told that love isn’t part of the plan, but he’s never given a hint of any consequences should he veer from it. It’s too little premise stretched over too much movie, and while the cast gives it their all, Nolfi’s characterless direction only makes the movie feel that much slighter. Mostly, the film kills time by having Damon learn the metaphysical rules from sympathetic agent Anthony Mackie while running around New York as his antagonists duck into and out of magical portals. Then he runs some more, as if running alone could stir up a sense of urgency. It doesn’t.