U.S. actor Matt Damon poses for a fan taking his picture during "The Informant" premiere at the 66th Venice Film Festival September 7, 2009.
That exclamation point in "The Informant!" is a tipoff to what director Steven Soderbergh and writer Scott Z. Burns have in mind.
Without that punctuation, this tale of corporate skullduggery, embezzlement, wiretaps, a whistle-blower and mental illness would be either a sweaty-palm thriller or a gritty character study about matters of conscience in corporate America. But that exclamation point changes everything. It's a comedy! And Matt Damon is playing a Tom Ripley without any smarts -- or at least without any instinct for self-preservation.
Perhaps the only way to tell the bizarre yet (mostly) true account of Mark Whitacre is as a comedy. It's somewhat akin to Steven Spielberg's "Catch Me If You Can," about a fabulous con artist who fakes out so many people that even he can't sort out truth from fiction. This is tricky stuff: a comedy about things that aren't really funny. With the right tone, you can maybe pull this off, but Soderbergh chooses to throw all subtlety aside.
Marvin Hamlisch's jaunty score, like something out of a 1960s Doris Day movie, and the protagonist's inner monologue, rambling the length of the movie and throwing off extremely weird fragments from a disordered mind, all but beg an audience to laugh. And, here and there, no doubt they will. The Warner Bros. release opens on September 18.
But how many people are going to care terribly about a protagonist, a compulsive liar, who keeps pulling the rug out from under himself? The movie insists that all this is hilarious, but it feels like desperate pleading. Which lies are you supposed to laugh at exactly?