dir. Kaufman

Opens Fri Jan 10

Various Theaters

Charlie Kaufman makes movies that are hard to review.

In 1999, he wrote Being John Malkovich. Directed by a trust fund baby who actually has talent, Spike Jonze, Malkovich was widely considered one of the best (or at the very least, most original) movies of the year. Adaptation is the pair's latest exercise in creative ingenuity. After writing Malkovich, Kaufman was hired to adapt the nonfiction saga The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. However, instead of adapting the book, Kaufman wrote a screenplay chronicling the difficulty he had in basing a movie around a story that lacks any sign of Hollywood bling. So the main character in the movie is actually Charlie Kaufman (and a fictional twin brother), which means that Adaptation is probably the most famous bit of postmodern meta-fiction yet written.

In Adaptation, a screenwriter named Charlie Kaufman (a pasty and chubby Nicolas Cage) is hired to write... oh wait, you already know this. Kaufman's twin, Donald (a slightly less pasty Nick Cage), is also a screenwriter, though his particular talent seems to be cramming every Hollywood cliché into his scripts--including car chases, ridiculous plot twists, extraneous boobs, and pointless love affairs--and selling out on accident. Donald is so Hollywood he even has a hot young girlfriend (Maggie Gyllenhaal). In contrast, Charlie jerks off a lot.

Much has been said about the novelty of the plot of Adaptation, and the fact that Kaufman (the real one) and Jonze move so easily between real fiction and fake fiction. However it's just that: novelty. Kaufman is indisputably inventive and hipster Jonze has grown a bit since his Weezer video days, but the concept of watching a film about itself being written has one unavoidable question: how do you end it?

Ultimately, Adaptation is epiphanal, ironic, and makes a point. But it's emotionally weak. Remove its glossy, hip varnish (just like Malkovich), and you find a brilliant concept that lacks an emotional core, and therefore any depth. I don't need a movie to make me feel warm and fuzzy, but I want to know that I didn't just watch the cinematic version of some guy pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

So yeah, the ending sucks. But the highlights of the film still make it worth seeing. Cage redeems himself after years of Hollywood froth and is so humorously unattractive that you forgive him immediately, even for Con Air. Streep, as Susan Orlean, displays comic ability that was only hinted at in Sophie's Choice and Out of Africa, and orchid thief Chris Cooper, best known for kissing Kevin Spacey in American Beauty (though his performance in Lone Star is pee-your-pants amazing), plays the sexiest toothless redneck ever.