Phil begins with a man leaping off a ridge to a watery death in the black waters below. It’s only his projected imagination—he’s really just perched on the rail, thinking about it while a crowd of goons with cell phones egg him into You Tube history—but he repeats the action again later for real. Phil stars Greg Kinnear, who also makes his directorial debut as a terminally depressed dentist named Phil McGuire, who wants to commit suicide. He’s charming and laid back in his usual style, but the result is a limp and minor effort both in front of the camera and behind it.
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As a director, he favors long shots that cut to conventional medium shots in scene after scene, which is better than a lot of annoying closeups but hardly original. As an actor, he injects as much humor as possible into a downbeat film about suicide. But none of it helps to save a humdrum waste of time headed directly for late night runs on cable TV.
The wonky plot wobbles on about the doctor’s growing misery and dwindling sense of responsibility. His daughter and ex-wife barely tolerate him. He postpones his patients’ woes with such indifference that his secretary is even instructed to treat an emergency abscessed tooth with a re-scheduled appointment. A hopeful life change occurs unexpectedly when another patient quotes Socrates (“the unexamined life is not worth living”) and the passion it inspires leads Dr. Phil to stalk the man to a wooded area where he is found hanging from a tree.
What ensues is a maddeningly contrived series of silly tableaus aimed at dragging a ten-minute plot into dated sit-com territory. Phil invades the life of the dead man’s widow (beautiful, talented, but criminally wasted Emily Mortimer) after she finds him asleep on her husband’s grave, posing as his old friend from 20 years earlier. Phil pretends to be a Greek man named Spyros, replete with a phony, unconvincing accent and a fake promise to renovate her bathroom—a job for which he has no experience or talent.
Growing olives and pretending he can dance like Zorba the Greek, Dr. Phil plods along, defying logic util Phil re-defines and gives new meaning to the word “implausible.” Kinnear manages to inject some humor into a plot about suicide, but the heinous screenplay by Stephen Mazur is discardable drudgery that gives none of the actors anything valuable to do. Character development is non-existent, and isolated scenes resonate with occasional whimsy, but they don’t add up to a satisfying whole.
The adjective that best describes Phil is preposterous.