Diminished Capacity



Sundance Film Festival

PARK CITY -- In "Diminished Capacity," actor-turned-first-time director Terry Kinney has a solid premise and two intriguing characters but only the lamest story to tell. Consequently, the film plays like diminished comedy.

The extremely talented Matthew Broderick and Alan Alda play a respective nephew and uncle, each struggling with memory loss, thereby creating a team Broderick calls, in one of the movie's few witty lines, "Slow and slower." But yielding to the story demands of a novel by Sherwood Kiraly (who co-authored the script), these two are thrust into the world of baseball cards and sports memorabilia shows, an arcane and, as it works out, mirthless arena for these potentially compelling characters.

The project from Steppenwolf Films, a division of the famed Chicago theater company, did attract a stellar cast including Virginia Madsen, Bobby Cannavale and the great Lois Smith. But from the start, the film fails to get any comic traction. Boxoffice appeal is limited to those eager to see Broderick and Alda in unusual roles -- and possibly Chicago Cubs fans whose long-suffering fate is the butt of many jokes.

A head trauma has short-circuited the brain of Chicago journalist Cooper (Broderick). He must write notes to himself to aid his memory, and his newspaper job is tenuous as best. One problem here is that the film lacks the courage to really deal with "dimcap" symptoms. The film's star still gets his share of funny lines, he remembers everything he needs to and this supposedly scrambled memory plays no real role here as it did in a film like "Memento."

Cooper's mom (Smith) summons him to his small Missouri hometown to help her settle Uncle Rollie (Alda), who shows signs of senile dementia. Here, too, you get not the pain and misery of an ailing elder -- as with the mentally fogged father in "The Savages" -- but a comically pixilated oldster obsessed about drying socks and tying baited fishing lines to typewriter keys so the fish can write poetry.

One of Uncle Rollie's obsessions proves downright intelligent. He possesses a rare baseball card, dating back to the last Cubs' World Championship, that is worth a fortune. So Slow and Slower take off for a Chicago baseball memorabilia show to sell the card. Along for the ride are Cooper's high school sweetheart, Charlotte (Madsen), who is now divorced and available again, and her son, Dillon (Jimmy Bennett).

All the characters that converge on this convention center seemingly suffer from "dimcap." The town drunk (Jim True-Frost), who follows the card-sellers, Cooper's Chicago buddy (comic Louis C.K.), a rabid Cubs fan (Dylan Baker) and a crooked dealer (Cannavale) are nothing more than cartoons. The theft of the card, a duplicate card and a few badly staged chases and fights are slapstick at its worst.

Alda actually is kind of interesting as the mentally unstable uncle, but Broderick appears to be sleepwalking. Madsen has little to do, and everyone else plays things far too broadly.

Cubs fans deserve a better tribute than this, but then again they are long suffering.

Plum Picturse/Steppenwolf Films/Hanson Allen Films/-Hard-Lunsford/Benedek Film
Director: Terry Kinney
Screenwriters: Sherwood Kiraly, Doug Bost
Based on the novel by: Sherwood Kiraly
Producers: Celine Rattray, Galt Niederhoffer, Tim Evans, Daniela Tapling Lundberg
Executive producers: Bill Benenson, Pamela Hirsch, Bruce Lunsford
Scott Hanson, John Allen, Ed Hart, Eric Warren Goldman
Director of photography: Vanja Cernjul
Production designer: Dan Davis
Music: Robert Burger
Costume designer: Sarah Holden
Editor: Tim Streeto
Cooper: Matthew Broderick
Rollie: Alan Alda
Charlotte: Virginia Madsen
Mad Dog McClure: Dylan Baker
Big Stan: Louis C.K.
Lee: Bobby Cannavale
Dillon: Jimmy Bennett
Donny: Jim True-Frost
Belle: Lois Smith
Running time -- 89 minutes
No MPAA rating