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Benjamin Button a curiously flat fable 

The sort of groveling Oscar bait that would only dare be released in December (no other month would have it), David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is this year's equivalent of Tim Burton's Big Fish: a desperate lunge by a normally exciting genre filmmaker to earn some year-end accolades by helming An Important Movie With Life-Affirming Values. But when faced with results such as this, I'll take the comparative cheap thrills of Fincher's Seven or Burton's Sleepy Hollow any day of the week.

Big Fish at least had some moments of inspiration, but except for one bravura sequence near the end of the picture -- a beautifully staged scene of a life winding down -- Button is curiously listless, with all of its passion apparently expended on its technical feats. Drastically altering a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, scripters Eric Roth and Robin Swicord move the setting from Baltimore to New Orleans, thereby allowing the modern-day framing sequences to occur in the midst of Katrina's assault (a narrative decision that's arguably tasteless but certainly clumsy). The bulk of the story deals with Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt), who's born as an 80-year-old man but becomes gradually younger as time passes. Like his cinematic soulmate Forrest Gump, Benjamin leads a rich and varied life, although his heart always belongs to Daisy (Cate Blanchett), who, like Forrest's Jenny, is a callow, free spirit who doesn't realize the depths of her fondness for Benjamin until it's almost too late.

Benjamin Button is primarily a passive character, and he's in turn played by Pitt in a passive manner. It's not the actor's finest hour (make that nearly three hours; this is a looong movie), as he's repeatedly upstaged by his own makeup as well as the CGI trickery that (in old-age mode) turns him into a diminutive figure. When Pitt is finally freed from the movie magic and allowed to look like himself, we expect him to raise his game, but it never really happens, largely because he and Blanchett have absolutely no chemistry together.

As for the movie's themes, they're basically a series of homilies about the beauty of life and how we shouldn't waste a single precious moment of it. Point taken: I won't spend another second reflecting on this motionless motion picture.

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