What do you get if you cross a droll romantic comedy with a sci-fi thriller/chase flick? Answer: “The Adjustment Bureau,” starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt as the star-crossed but plucky lovers. Based very loosely on a 1954 short story by Phillip Dick (who, also supplied the source material for such films as “Blade Runner” and “Total Recall”), the movie is more the brainchild of screenwriter/director/producer George Nolfi. Best known for his screenplays for “The Bourne Ultimatum” and “Ocean’s Twelve,” Nolfi makes his directorial debut in a pleasing, teasing movie that poses some questions about free will vs. fate—but not all that seriously.
Damon plays David Norris, a charismatic young congressman who is making a bid for a New York senatorial position. When a news story about his mooning classmates at a college reunion sinks his campaign, Norris repairs to an empty hotel men’s room to rehearse his concession speech. There he meets aspiring dancer Elise Sellas (Blunt), who is hiding from hotel security, having crashed a wedding party. The two share some witty banter and, after a couple of minutes, a kiss. But as this latter-day Cinderella flees down the hotel steps, David realizes he never got her name.
Imagine his pleasure and surprise, then, when he meets her on a bus, headed for his new job, and gets her phone number. But this being the course of true love, a complication ensues. Seems David and Emily were never intended to meet, and their second meeting occurs only because an “adjuster” falls asleep and misses his assignment. The guy, Harry (Anthony Mackie) is no angel, but he and his boss, Mr. Richards (John Slattery), have access to and responsibility for The Plan, or at least that part of it they know. Only The Chairman knows the whole thing, and he/she isn’t happy about deviations from it, since human beings, left unattended, manage to produce the Dark Ages and the Cuban missile crisis, among other irrational events.
But when they try to warn off the rebellious David, threatening him with a brain erasure, he defies them. If she’s not intended for him, he demands, then why does he feel this way about her? The lower echelon minder/enforcers finally have to call in Mr. Thompson, a steely, implacable type nicknamed “The Hammer.” When he comes down hard on Elise, David takes his point.
The rest of the movie involves getting the young lovers together against overwhelming odds. It features some nifty chases through doorways that keep opening into unexpected NYC highlights: Yankee Stadium, the Museum of Modern Art, the Statue of Liberty. Damon has had lots of experience in the Bourne series, and Blunt keeps up with him, as actor and fellow runner. (The movie has lots of running scenes, both physical and political, and a lot of odd business about hats and water.)
In making this unusual, mixed-genre movie, Nolfi appears to have had a lot of fun. Cameos by, among others, Jon Stewart, Michael Blomberg, and James Carville keep the goings lively, as does some quietly humorous dialogue. “The Adjustment Bureau” is rated “PG-13” for some strong language, but I don’t see anything here to endanger the morals of the young, though the free will/predestination discussions might lose them at times. Mostly, though, the movie is fun to watch and play along with.