Kevin Kline doesn’t land a lot of leading roles these days, but judging by his performance in The Extra Man, his comic timing remains as sharp as it was in his A Fish Called Wanda days. He plays Henry Harrison, a self-proclaimed playwright who says a Swiss hunchback stole his magnum opus, Henry and Mary Are Always Late. He’s an unapologetic sexist who believes higher-learning institutions were ruined when they started admitting women. He’s also a bit of a moron (“There’s a dwarf in that picture!” he says when gazing at a painting of a child), but he’s animated and spirited and never boring — especially in the morning, when he practices interpretative dance-yoga to loud classical music.
Henry is an impossibly quirky weirdo — this man simply could not exist in the real world — but Kline invests so fully in the character, playing his eccentricities so convincingly, that you believe in him anyway. Unfortunately, The Extra Man is overstuffed with peculiar people with built-in sets of oddities. After a while, the movie starts to make you feel as if you were trapped in a tight closet with a bunch of clowns trying to make you laugh.
The Extra Man, based on the novel by Jonathan Ames and directed by Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman (American Splendor), is the story of Louis Ives (Paul Dano), an aspiring young writer who moves to New York and becomes Henry’s roommate. Louis is so lonely he’s developed a secret fetish for cross-dressing, because it makes him feel as if there’s a female presence nearby. Henry introduces Louis to the world of gentleman “walkers,” escorts who accompany elderly single women to social events and meals, and he also teaches him how to sneak into the opera for free and urinate in public without getting arrested.
A subplot involving Louis’ crush on a co-worker (Katie Holmes) adds to the strangeness (she’s a vegan with a meat gag reflex), and when John C. Reilly enters the film as Henry’s shaggy-haired, squeaky-voiced neighbor, The Extra Man begins to teeter on the insufferable. New York has never felt so otherworldly — or so fake. The movie suffers, too, when the story takes a sentimental turn. But Kline salvages the picture with his dynamic, utterly unpredictable performance — the work of a highly skilled comedian thrilled by the opportunity to go nuts once again.
Cast: Paul Dano, Kevin Kline, Katie Holmes, John C. Reilly, Celia Weston, Lynn Cohen, Dan Hedaya.
Directors: Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman.
Screenwriters: Robert Pulcini, Jonathan Ames, Shari Springer Berman.
Producers: Anthony Bregman, Stephanie Davis.
A Magnolia Pictures release. Running time: 107 minutes. Vulgar language, sexual situations, adult themes.