ST VINCENT (NC16)
102 minutes/Opens tomorrow/**1/2
The story: Twelve-year-old Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) and his mother, Maggie (Melissa McCarthy), are new in the neighbourhood, living next door to the curmudgeonly drunk Vincent (Bill Murray). Vincent, in need of cash to pay off gambling debts, agrees to babysit the introspective and bullied boy after school.
Murray, along with a handful of older actors such as Robert Duvall, is today regarded as a national treasure as much as he is an actor. This movie is a very welcome vehicle for his comedic speciality, the forlorn philosopher; he has not had as large a role in a project since 2012's serious biopic, Hyde Park On The Hudson.
It is easy to see his Vincent as the sort of guy Phil in Groundhog Day (1993) might become if left alone to marinate for a couple of decades in booze and self-regard.
Snarkiness has given way to simple threats; a disregard for the opinion of others has curdled into misanthropy. Vincent's home is comfortable but messy and forlorn. His only real friends are his cat and the bottle.
Enter Oliver, the sad boy. The predictable course of the film might be in the direction of a coming-of-age indie work in which man and boy enrich each other's lives, forcing both to reach the next level of personal development (the older one becomes a father figure, teaching the boy how to act like a man, while the boy's innocence restores the old man's faith in humanity).
In such a journey, there might be capers and high jinks taking place under the noses of unsuspecting responsible guardians, high-fives, slow- motion swaggering, lifted by the swells of alternative radio rock.
All of which does happen here, tragically. Writer-director Theodore Melfi's feature directorial debut not only hits the predictable emotional notes, but the stuff happening in between - dialogue, cinematography - is also not terribly interesting either.
There are flashes of wit, such as in the observations of Catholic brother and teacher Geraghty (the always- funny Chris O'Dowd), but not much else makes an impression, least of all the extremely broad Russian prostitute character played by Naomi Watts.