When I heard that the fantasy suspense thriller "The Adjustment Bureau" was based on a Philip K. Dick story and starred Matt Damon, I immediately prepared myself for "The Bourne Identity Meets Inception." The good news is that the film is not as humorless as the former or as incomprehensible as the latter. It's actually – of all things – endearingly romantic.
Damon's David Norris is a populist bachelor New York congressman on the verge of winning a Senate seat when a last-minute tabloid revelation about a long-ago fraternity prank ruins everything. Rehearsing his concession speech alone in the empty men's room of his campaign headquarters, he discovers emerging from a stall the gorgeous Elise (Emily Blunt). Their patter is awkward and then, mutually smitten, they kiss.
Any thoughts we might have about Elise being an operative of the opposition – why was she in the bathroom? – are instantly put to rest. These two are meant for each other. But if that's true, why does she suddenly race out? And why are men in hats and business suits, looking like refugees from "Mad Men," skulking about?
First-time director George Nolfi, who also wrote the screenplay, has writing credits on "Ocean's Twelve" and "The Bourne Ultimatum," both of which starred Damon, and this may explain why the actor gives such a spirited performance here. Actor and director obviously share a rapport.
Despite his hard-ball political background, David is an innocent, which is why, when he accidentally meets Elise on a bus not long after that initial encounter, he is determined to never lose sight of her again. At this point the sci-fi elements kick in, as the hatted sentries reveal themselves as emissaries of a higher power that makes the world run. As one of the men (played by John Slattery) tells David, not long after he threatens to erase David's brain, "We are the people who make sure things go according to plan."
Apparently David's love for Elise is not part of the preordained plan, and so for three years he forces himself to stop seeing her, before, inevitably, they cross paths yet again.
Memo to all the women in the audience: Any guy who is willing to have his brain erased for you is a keeper.
Because the chemistry between Damon and Blunt is so strong, what might have been a jumble of "Matrix"-style oddments comes across instead as ardent. (There was no love interest in the Dick short story.) Nolfi isn't especially adept at action sequences, although there are some elegant effects involving nifty shifts between physical worlds, with doors acting as faraway portals. What the film lacks in tension and pizazz it makes up for in "heart."
Is there also, as some contend, a religious aspect to "The Adjustment Bureau"? The notion of a higher power pulling our strings and determining our free will – a sci-fi mainstay – can be interpreted any which way. But here I must ask: If the head of the bureau is God, then why is he played by Terence Stamp and not Morgan Freeman? Grade: B+ (Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, some sexuality, and a violent image.)