St. Vincent

Bill Murray shines in this tale of an old coot who softens up thanks to the latchkey kid next door

Jaeden Lieberher and Bill Murray in 'St. Vincent'. Credit: Atsushi Nishijima

An aging, hard-drinking hardass gets reformed by the sweet innocence of the kid next door. I know, I wanted to gag too. But hold on. St. Vincent will dodge your impulse to projectile vomit. For that, all hail Bill Murray who whacks away at the script's sentimental softballs like A-Rod in full swing. Murray plays Vincent McKenna, a Brooklyn drunk and Nam vet who likes living alone with his cat in a Sheepshead Bay house that gives "dump" a bad name. Vincent's no loner. He hits the bar and the track and regularly boffs a pregnant Russian hooker named Daka (Naomi Watts salvaging a role conceived in cliché). Yup, Vincent can still get it up.

It's too bad that first-time writer-director Theodore Melfi can't or won't side with the devil for long. The sinner must be redeemed. Enter the new neighbors. Maggie (Melissa McCarthy, wonderful) is a single mom on the run from an interfering ex and working as a CAT scan technician to support her 12-year-old son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher). She pays Vincent to babysit because if she didn't there'd be no movie. It's a setup for schmaltz. But Melfi does solid work with a cast that comes up aces. McCarthy, playing her role straight and true, downplays the comedy to show surprising nuance and feeling. And Lieberher is a kid actor with none of the self-conscious, obnoxious traits of a kid actor. His scenes with Murray are hugely entertaining. Even when Melfi packs them on a bullet train to bathos, Murray busts through the rules of convention.

Is there an Oscar in his future? Fine by me. Big Bad Billy's been robbed twice—for Rushmore and Lost in Translation. There's nobody like Bill Murray. Never has been. Never will be. He's indispensable. Stay in your seat for the end credits, in which Murray waters a dying plant and karaokes to Bob Dylan's "Shelter from the Storm." That alone is worth double the price of admission.