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Movie Review

Answers to Nothing

‘Nothing’ just about sums it up

answers to nothing Barbara Hershey plays Dane Cook’s mother in “Answers to Nothing.’’ (David Jones)
By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / December 2, 2011
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You know where some movies are headed even as you pray to be wrong. “Answers to Nothing’’ is one of those everything-is-connected dramas that seems to happen only in movies about Los Angeles. It’s as if all that driving creates this desperate need for human connection, courtesy of forced coincidences in the service of big ideas, like in Lawrence Kasdan’s “Grand Canyon’’ or Paul Haggis’s “Crash.’’

As you might expect from a movie called “Answers to Nothing,’’ there is no big idea, just a collection of characters - a philandering shrink (Dane Cook), his self-loathing patient (Kali Hawk), and a mopey cop (Erik Palladino), to identify three - for the movie to oscillate among. There is also a missing child case whose sensationalized solution the movie can mosey toward.

None of what we see is at all credible (well, the hypo-creative scene transition from one coffee pot to another is credible only in that it’s so lazy it makes sense). It’s not that I don’t think that there’s such a thing as a sexy blond LAPD detective. I just don’t believe that one of them could ever be Julie Benz, who appears to be flirting with her creepy prime suspect (Greg Germann) in the abduction case. I also don’t know why a young student of a suspicious-seeming schoolteacher (Mark Kelly) would ask him, after class, whether the world would have been a better place had Martin Luther King not been murdered. All a scene like that does in a movie like this is dare you to take the title seriously.

Barbara Hershey appears once an hour as Cook’s deranged mother. Elizabeth Mitchell plays his wife and the lawyer of a more deranged woman (Miranda Bailey) stuck in a custody battle. The most deranged woman of all might be that patient of Dr. Cook, a black woman fond of saying she hates black people. Eventually, you realize you’re stuck with these droopy character sketches with names like Frankie and Allegra, names an actor really has to own and inhabit. Every time someone here says “Frankie’’ - that’s Benz’s detective character - I rolled my eyes, since, under these circumstances, a Frankie she’s not.

Matthew Leutwyler directed the movie and wrote the script with Gillian Vigman, and nothing they do convinces you that they’ve experienced any of what they’re showing us - ran a marathon, attended a concert, played a video game, committed adultery, been black, stolen a child, breathed. The trick for a movie with this many loosely connected people is to find the magic or tragedy or thought that arranges them into some kind of galaxy. In “Short Cuts,’’ Robert Altman had, among other things, an earthquake and the bourboned melancholy of Raymond Carver’s writing. In “Magnolia,’’ Paul Thomas Anderson used Aimee Mann, frogs, and the thunder of his filmmaking. Leutwyler and Vigman have made the sort of shallow Los Angeles movie where the galaxy could refer only to the city’s soccer team.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com or followed on Twitter: @wesley_morris.

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ANSWERS TO NOTHING Directed by:

Matthew Leutwyler

Written by: Leutwyler

and Gillian Vigman

Starring: Dane Cook, Julie Benz, Elizabeth Mitchell,

Erik Palladino, Kali Hawk, and Barbara Hershey

At: Boston Common

Running time: 123 minutes

Rated: R (strong sexual

content, nudity, violence, and language)

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