Steven Soderbergh has been at both ends of the spectrum over the last 15 years. With movies like Erin Brockovich and Traffic (for which he won an Oscar), he's shown he can make movies with a message, a heart, that tackle issues facing modern society. Then with movies like the Ocean's 11 series, Soderbergh has proven he can make big budget, flashy, star-driven movies that tend to appeal to audiences. But they can't all be winners, like 2009's The Informant!.
This is a movie I remember seeing a trailer for and really getting a chuckle out of it. It looked like some off the wall satire with some outlandish humor. And the poster of Matt Damon with ridiculous haircut and mustache smiling at God knows what? That sold me on it. I can't give the movie a free pass, but the advertising, commercials, and trailers really sold this movie the wrong way. For one thing, I was expecting a somewhat drier humor right from the start, but that's the problem. There's little to no humor in this one, and I can't even remember laughing at this once. Sure, there was a chuckle here and there, but for a movie billed as a comedy, I was bored to tears.
Dry humor is about as subjective as anything in movies. You love it or hate it with little middle ground separating the camps. Handled right it can be hilarious because it is NOT slapstick or physical humor. With 'Informant,' I'm trying to decide if Soderbergh was going for dry, dark, satirical, or whatever and can't make up my mind. Instead, it wavers among all three. It's the type of movie that tries too hard to be funny, to be stylish and came across as fake to me. A really jazzy ridiculous sounding soundtrack drives the action -- at times reminding me of 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia' -- and colorful on-screen titles tell us when and where the story has moved to. I get it, you're trying to be cute, and you fail.
Damon plays Mark Whitacre, a high-ranking official at ADM in the early 1990s. Whitacre is fed up with his superiors fixing prices on products sold around the world and ends up going to the FBI with his worries. There he meets two agents (Scott Bakula and The Soup's Joel McHale) who convince him to be an informant for them. Mark somewhat suspiciously agrees to go along with their plan, audiotaping meetings where prices are settled on among the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies from around the world. But not everything goes smoothly -- thanks in great part to Whitacre's cluelessness -- and eventually the shit hits the fan.
Matt Damon is one of my favorite actors around, and I'm pretty sure this is the first movie I've seen him in where I didn't think he was the right choice for the role. He gained around 40 pounds for the role and dons that ridiculous hair and mustache, but something just doesn't work. His Whitacre is a very bright guy, but somehow he's incredibly naive and at times downright stupid about his actions. All this keeps developing like peeling an onion until by the end I had trouble believing any of this is true (it is in fact true). Whitacre is almost a caricature of a character, and it's too easy to root against him.
The rest of the cast is given little to do, especially Bakula and McHale as the two FBI agents trying to keep up with all Whitacre's demands, questions, and crazy behavior. Many reviews point out how strong these two parts were which left me shaking my head. They're required to appear here and there, look surprised and/or stunned, and then exit stage left. It's not their fault though that the script has nothing for them to do. Other parts include Melanie Lynskey as Ginger, Mark's wife, and Tom Papa as Mick Andreas, one of Mark's bosses. A fair share of familiar faces -- mostly comedians -- make blink and you'll miss them appearances that are all fairly forgettable.
I don't really know what Soderbergh was going for with this one, and because of that it's a real stinker. If it's trying to be dark, it doesn't really delve deep enough into the Whitacre character who sounds like a real nut-case by the end of the movie. If it's satirical, I don't know who they're making fun of. And it's dry humor, they forgot to add the humor part. It got fair reviews and has built up some of a following since its release, but I really disliked this movie, and I don't say that often about a supposed comedy.
The Informant! <----trailer (2009): */****