In this maddeningly uneven film version of Jonathan Ames’ acclaimed 1998 novel, Kevin Kline gives a master class in acting. Kline plays Henry Harrison, a hard-pressed Manhattan aristocrat (his income can’t finance his tastes) who gets by being an extra man, a walker who escorts rich elderly ladies on the town.
Henry also rents a room in his shabby apartment to Louis Ives (Paul Dano), a young teacher who lost his job after being caught trying on a brassiere. So Louis moves in with Henry and begins his unsentimental education under the tutelage of a man whose views on sex are “to the right of the Pope.” This doesn’t quite jibe with Louis’ attraction to Mary (Katie Holmes), his co-worker at an environmental magazine, or his fascination with tranny bars and cross-dressing.
That’s the setup for the script Ames co-wrote with directors Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman, the husband-and-wife team who scored big with American Splendor and fell ignominiously with The Nanny Diaries. But whenever The Extra Man falters in pace and focus, Kline comes to the rescue. Whether Henry is teaching Louis about the perils of educating women or how to pee with style in the street, Kline finds every nuance of mirth and melancholy in this wonder of a role and rides it to glory. You can’t take your eyes off him.