Kevin Spacey seems to hate playing guys we love to hate. The Oscar-winning actor delivers menacing, sarcastic line-readings with such delicious flatness that he commands the screen as a psycho killer or simmering suburbanite with rage issues. One doesn’t begrudge Spacey his bids to avoid typecasting, but his performances in less aggressive roles such as Pay It Forward, The Shipping News and now Shrink simply don't prove as much fun.
Spacey plays Los Angeles psychologist Henry Carter. The role would seem to be a perfect profession for the actor to play — so many therapists need to cultivate the poker-faced, sphinx-like, Dr. Melfi quality that encourages patients to break the silence and keep talking. Spacey’s Carter isn’t just any shrink, though. He's a rich, grieving pothead who can’t get past his wife’s death. Plus, he’s a celebrity therapist and best-selling self-help author of such unimaginative titles as Happiness Now and Stop Feeling Sad. (And now he’s sad! The irony!)
Although Shrink puts Spacey at its center, it’s really yet another entry in the "overlapping lives of random Los Angelenos" genre. All of the movie's supporting characters either work in the film industry or aspire to break into it. This wouldn’t be a problem if the roles were unique or insightful, but most of the characterizations live up to tired showbiz stereotypes, like Dallas Roberts as a bullying, type-A agent who incessantly wears an ear piece. You can imagine him pitching Shrink: “It’s Wonder Boys meets Magnolia!" Robin Williams plays a stubbly movie star with alcohol and infidelity issues, but Carter really should prescribe him something to diminish those rapid-fire one-liners.
The sturdiest support comes from “Friday Night Lights’” Jesse Plemons as a gabby young pot dealer, and Keke Palmer as a self-destructive high schooler and movie fan grappling with a personal tragedy much like Carter’s. Shrink’s lethargic pace matches Carter’s despairing languor a little too well. At times, the film seems to amount to nothing more than Spacey with bloodshot eyes, either sucking on joints or hiding them from his friends and patients. In contrast to HBO’s “In Treatment,” which emphasizes that therapy involves lots and lots of conversation, Shrink shows hardly any real interest in “the talking cure.” Instead, the film opts for contrived plot points and unearned epiphanies instead of substantial dialogue. Physician, shrink thyself.
I can see Rushdie's stuff adapting well. Lots of plot to play with.