DVD Review: Smart People

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A movie about bungling bookworms who could definitely use more than a little help from take charge humans with lower IQ’s, Smart People suffers from a kind of inherent lethargy unfortunately associated here with knowledge as a plot device. This mostly all talk and no action dysfunctional egghead family sarcastic romp, with its smart and smarter lackluster momentum, is held together more by its occasional stinging humor, than character chemistry or drama.

Among those know-it-alls talking their way through this movie as if in serious need of NoDoz, is a synthetically plumped up Dennis Quaid as Lawrence Wetherhold, a down-in-the-dumps drudge teaching literature at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Holding his fractured nuclear family together is high schooler Vanessa (Ellen Page) in her brainy brat pre-Juno mode, showing off for Dad what a swell combo overachiever kid and surrogate housewife she can be, in the absence of her late mom.

Terminally jaded about his job, his students and life in general, Professor Wetherhold has his life shaken up in major ways by two disorienting events: The unwelcome arrival of his ne’er-do-well slacker stepbrother played by Thomas Haden Church – who basically takes over the house while pestering Wetherhold to lighten up – and a chance encounter in an emergency ward with his assigned physician, Dr. Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker). She also happens to be a former student of his way back when, who had harbored an enormous secret crush on the grumpy misanthrope, and got a bad grade in return.

And Wetherhold’s check-in at the hospital apparently occurred following his objection to having his car impounded for violations – again – and making an ill-advised decision to scale a high gate to retrieve his vehicle on the sly, subsequently landing on his head. And no, the head injury did not apparently lower his IQ one iota. Though his newfound flirtation with that attentive doctor may have resuscitated and reinvigorated his brain matter in other ways.

Smart People is plagued by a cast of such sad sacks, that it’s pretty astonishing when the lusty sparks begin to fly between any of them, and with an overload of brain power coming across as some kind of mental impairment. Which sorta implicates Sarah Jessica Parker here in quite a comedown from her famed small screen zany erotic romps.

Buena Vista Home Entertainment

Rated R

2 stars

DVD Features: The Smartest People: Interviews with the producers, cast, and crew; Audio Commentary: View the film with commentary by director Noam Murro and writer Mark Jude Poirier; Not So Smart: a collection of outtakes from the film; Bloopers; Outtakes; Nine Deleted Scenes; Smart People At Sundance: Exclusive footage from the premiere of Smart People at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.