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"ST. VINCENT"
(2014) (Bill Murray, Jaeden Lieberher) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Dramedy: A 12-year-old boy from a broken family finds an unlikely role model and source of inspiration in his misanthropic, debt-ridden neighbor.
PLOT:
In the Brooklyn neighborhood of Sheepshead Bay, Vincent (BILL MURRAY) is the sort of old, cantankerous and disheveled misanthrope that most people tend to avoid. That is, except for pregnant stripper-prostitute Daka (NAOMI WATTS) who has regular paid sessions with him, while horse track bookie Zucko (TERRENCE HOWARD) is interested in Vincent only for the gambling debt owed to him. Money woes are Vincent's biggest concern, mainly stemming from having his senile wife in an expensive nursing home and cared for by the likes of Nurse Anna (KIMBERLY QUINN).

No one outside of that facility knows of that, and that includes his new neighbors who've just moved in next door. And that would be CAT scan technician Maggie (MELISSA McCARTHY) and her 12-year-old son, Oliver (JAEDEN LIEBERHER). They've moved there following the end of her marriage to her lawyer husband with her hoping that Oliver will find guidance at the local Catholic school. While he finds that in one of his teachers, Father Geraghty (CHRIS O'DOWD), he must also contend with the school bully, Robert Ocinski (DARIO BAROSSO), repeatedly harassing him.

When he takes Oliver's school clothes during gym, the boy ends up locked out of his house and thus spends the afternoon with Vincent who's less than pleased with the situation. But when he realizes Maggie needs an after-school babysitter and he needs the money, Vincent decides to take advantage of the situation and offer his services. From that point on, Oliver finds an unlikely role model and source of inspiration in him, all while the kid brings out a softer side and some surprises out of the curmudgeon.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
Considering her increasingly pigeonholed track record of recent, it might not surprise many moviegoers to hear that Melissa McCarthy is appearing in a comedy about a brash and messy misanthrope who isn't happy getting stuck with the new next-door neighbored kid. After all, her recent appearances have included playing a crass, down-on-her-luck woman in "Tammy," a coarse and politically incorrect detective in "The Heat," the title character in "Identity Thief" and a raunchy future sister-in-law in "Bridesmaids," the film that earned her an Oscar nomination and really sent her down this path of playing the same sort of comedy-based, unlikable character.

Shockingly, she doesn't star as the misanthrope in "St. Vincent," and instead plays the otherwise fairly normal if nearly divorced mother of that neighbor kid in this mostly winning comedy. And the main force that all but insures that cinematic victory is the guy playing the title character, Bill Murray.

It's somewhat funny that while the dates don't perfectly align regarding some late in the film revelations about his character, Murray could nearly be playing John Winger (his alter-ego in "Stripes") all of these years later, now bitter and increasingly disheveled after his brief heroism in that 1981 comedy didn't pan out into any worthwhile.

Of course, Murray's playing an entirely different character, but that sort of lets you imagine the type of grubby, opportunistic horrible neighbor he embodies here. Yet, like most cinematic misanthropes and unlike those in real life, there's a certain charm and allure to the man, at least as played by the always likeable star and thanks in part to the words put in his mouth by writer/director Theodore Melfi.

And that goes a long way in making what's otherwise a fairly predictable, formulaic and familiar plot come off as more enjoyable and entertaining than it probably should. After all, there's little doubt that the old man is going to act like he doesn't like the kid (played by Jaeden Lieberher in a terrific debut performance), but will then impart some life education to the young lad, albeit in a highly unorthodox way.

Few will be surprised that McCarthy's mom will think twice about allowing her son around this guy until she finally breaks and severs their new and unique bond. And I'll bet that you've already guessed that the kid will end up learning that there's a reason behind the crankiness and a good soul beneath the bad attitude.

What you probably weren't expecting is to find Naomi Watts playing a pregnant, Eastern European stripper-meets-prostitute who not only services the title character, but becomes something of his de facto significant other. And that some of the film's cleverest lines, at least early on, will be delivered by Chris O'Dowd playing a Catholic school teacher with a considerable cheeky attitude toward his students, himself, and life in general. Or that Terrence Howard would be all but wasted in a little more than a one-dimensional role as a bookie who wants his money from the protagonist in a subplot that's not really necessary.

Yet, Murray and his character's relationship with his young charge is quite good, as is Melfi's dialogue that's often sharp, witty and fairly funny. While that dries up a bit in the second half, the first more than makes up for that in this decently entertaining if mostly predictable offering. "St. Vincent" rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed October 6, 2014 / Posted October 17, 2014


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