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'Are You Here' values matter over mind

*1/2 (out of four)

“Are You Here,” the feature writing-directing debut from “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner, features such a stunningly unconvincing emotional reversal that it must be shared. Spoiler alert: The following moment happens late in this lousy movie.

When he’s not sleeping with randoms—allowing Weiner to maximize the boobs—Steve Dallas (Owen Wilson) periodically tries to look at his gorgeous neighbor, who strips naked in front of her uncovered windows but is always blocked by a tree. Steve eventually advocates for chopping it down, but by the time he fully sees this exhibitionist—who grins at him because Weiner thinks that’s what all women do when catching strangers looking at them naked—Steve focuses primarily on the tree. By this point, allegedly, he understands nature.

The story of a detached lothario discovering there’s more to life than money and boobs might have some traction if it didn’t feel so Tucker Max-like. And if Weiner didn’t put so much value in money and boobs. And if he didn’t deliver this overlong, misogynistic, mostly unfunny dramedy like Zach Braff’s take on “Our Idiot Brother,” with loud metaphors and bits of “You, Me and Dupree.”

Steve’s an irresponsible, often-intoxicated Annapolis meteorologist who only has the job, his boss says, “because you’re handsome and you can talk.” Steve frequently attends to his pothead pal Ben, played by Zach Galifianakis in an unintentional parody of a Galifianakis role. He believes in challenging societal norms, and after his father dies and leaves him $2.5 million in assets, wants to start a society that promotes his way of thinking. Ben’s sister Terri (Amy Poehler), the only woman Weiner doesn’t objectify and thus presents as an uptight nag, doubts Ben’s plan. So does Steve, but he’s also focused on wanting to sleep with Ben’s young stepmother, Angela (Laura Ramsey), who won’t give him a chance until he cleans up his act.

Ramsey’s the only one who makes her character into something. Angela surprises and shows strength. Then Weiner makes her do stupid, out-of-character things and ruins any intelligence the film offers.

With so many movies trying for nothing and not even succeeding, sometimes it’s good to ask big questions. David O. Russell’s brilliant “I Heart Huckabees” turned existential dilemmas into a dizzying, hilarious farce. David Chase (“The Sopranos”) nailed his feature debut “Not Fade Away.” “Are You Here” succeeds only in making you want to go outside and stop wasting your time.

Watch Matt review the week's big new movies Fridays at noon on NBC.

mpais@tribune.com

 

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