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Greg Kinnear is a likeable actor who gravitates towards playing feckless and unlikeable people — the kind of simpering people whose lives are just waiting to be flattened by a steamroller, or already have. The only difference with “Phil,” his cloying and contrived directorial debut, is that Kinnear is both in front of the camera and behind the wheel; it’s like a slow-motion hit-and-run where the victim and the suspect are somehow the same man. As a feat of masochism, “Phil” is an impressive trick. As a movie, it’s a ghastly mess.
It’s immediately apparent why Kinnear was drawn to Stephen Mazur’s (“Liar Liar”) script, which hinges on a humdinger of a mistaken-identity premise that feels like it was hatched sometime in the mid-’90s. The first time that we meet Phil, a morose Portland dentist who Kinnear plays with his signature quiver and sigh, he’s standing on the edge of a highway bridge and staring down at the black water below. A car full of giggling teens pulls up with their iPhones at the ready, and one of them encourages Phil to jump: “I can make you famous on YouTube!” Whatever sympathy and affection our hero is looking for, he’s not going to find it through suicide.
Kinnear - Characters - Sympathy - Affection - Phil
As with most of Kinnear’s characters, sympathy and affection is all that Phil really wants (or feels entitled to). “Our lives are supposed to be full and free,” the middle-aged divorcee laments to his brother (Jay Duplass), “but they’re actually just cold.” We’re supposed to believe that Phil is a pretty smart guy — not a genius or an underachiever, but he has a dental license and watches “Jeopardy!” every night — but that’s hard to swallow when he blames his misbegotten suicide attempt on a nearly fatal misunderstanding of the lyrics to Lynn Anderson’s...
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