An extended Twilight Zone-ish parable that gets progressively less interesting as it reveals more of its hand, screenwriter John August's directing debut does one thing absolutely right: It gives the consistently underrated Ryan Reynolds three chances to prove that he's got so much more under the hood than frat-boy hijinks and hunky action-guy posturing.
Self-consciously divided into three chapters — "The Prisoner," "Reality Television" and "Knowing" — that unfold in parallel universes where the same three actors play different roles, it traffics in spin control, TV politics, obsessive gaming, celebrity meltdowns and the kind of glib navel-gazing that passes for introspection in Hollywood. In the first segment, hot young actor Gary (Reynolds), star of the network series "Crim9 Lab," freaks out after a bad breakup, accidentally setting his own house on fire then holing up in a no-tell motel with a hooker and a mess of crack. His new publicist, Margaret (Melissa McCarthy), bails him out and reads him the rules of house arrest: Gary will stay in the palatial home of another of her clients, ordering in, staying clean and laying low until the bad press abates. But after a forbidden flirtation with the desperate housewife (Hope Davis) next door, Gary begins to think she and Margaret are in cahoots, and that his luxurious prison hides a sinister secret. In the second segment, network golden boy Gavin (Reynolds) tries to shoot the pilot for "Knowing," a spooky TV series about a missing man and his increasingly panicked wife and mute daughter, with his best friend, plus-size actress Melissa (McCarthy), in the lead. But Gavin eventually caves to the network — represented by duplicitous Susan (Davis) — replacing Melissa with a cookie-cutter cutie (Dahlia Salem). In the third (reworked from August's 1998 short "God"), Gabriel (Reynolds) goes hiking with his wife (McCarthy) and daughter (Elle Fanning), only to wind up stranded in the woods with a dead battery. As enigmatic hippie-chick Sierra (Davis) leads Gabriel down the garden path, it becomes increasingly apparent that they're living the story of "Knowing." The three stories are eventually braided into a brain-bending cosmic "Gotcha!" that attaches mystical significance to rewrites and video-game do-overs.
Reynolds is a revelation, creating three very different characters without resorting to flashy actor business. August, whose resume is unequally divided between tricky, offbeat films like GO (1999) and BIG FISH (2003) and bloated, mainstream junk in the CHARLIE'S ANGELS mold, gets tangled up in his own ambitious, meta-mystical noodling, but at least he has ambitions. The payoff fizzles, but the buildup is intriguing until it topples under its own weight. leave a comment --Matiland McDonagh