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Extra Special

Kevin Kline elevates filmmakers’ follow-up to “American Splendor.”

“The Extra Man,” in theaters July 30, is an exercise in extreme quirk in which Kevin Kline steals the show. The directors and co-writers, Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman, who were also behind “American Splendor,” this time turn their eye for the bizarre onto creating a timeless world – as if 1930s New York were suddenly overlaid over the present version of the city.

The titular character, Henry Harrison, played by Kline, gets by on being the “extra man” to widows like one played by Marian Seldes. Kline goes all the way with Henry’s quirks, showcasing comedic flair in an outlandish way he hasn’t approached since “A Fish Called Wanda.”

The protagonist of the movie is, nominally, Paul Dano’s character, Louis Ives, a stand-in for Jonathan Ames, the author whose story is the basis of “The Extra Man.” Dano is sympathetic if not as deep as he was in “Little Miss Sunshine” or as kinetic as in “There Will Be Blood.” Here, he can’t help but be overshadowed by Kline’s force of nature.

Kline, with the support of Pulcini and Berman, gives the audience just enough of a sense of Harrison’s desperation, trying to milk the last gasps out of a beaten-up 1970s Buick and renting out a small space in his apartment to Dano’s character, who becomes his sidekick. Despite this, Henry exhibits unwarranted bravado, coupled with outbursts, all of which Kline relishes – including everything from terrible attempts at modern dance to instructing Dano how to urinate in the street without being detected.

In all, “The Extra Man” works best when Kline is onscreen, giving the story both its dramatic tension and its comedy. The supporting turns, like Seldes’ corpse-like ancient widow, and John C. Reilly’s inexplicably high-voiced handyman, come off more like quirk for the sake of quirkiness. It’s Kline that makes the whole package sympathetic.

   

     

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