‘Details’ doesn’t quite gather momentum it needs

What is “The Details”? A slightly surreal film noir, perhaps, or an “American Beauty” with larceny in its soul? Or a black comedy with something serious to say?

If the movie had a little more urgency, it might be easier to care about the answer. Meet the Lang family, from the suburbs outside Seattle, a pleasant young couple with a toddler son.

Husband Jeff (Tobey Maguire) is a sex-starved doctor who gets into various layers of trouble when his discontent leads him into a few wrong situations. As the dominos fall, he finds himself rationalizing bad decisions.

Or, in the movie’s less convincing moments, he simply goes with the flow and fails to do the right thing. Wife Nealy (Elizabeth Banks) is on the sidelines for most of this, although toward the end of the movie she jumps back into the thick of it and you realize how much she might have added along the way.

One of Jeff’s mistakes has to do with an attractive med-school classmate (Kerry Washington), who is unfortunately married to a thuggish tough guy (Ray Liotta). The indiscretion is comprehensible, although his encounters with a well-described “wackadoodle neighbor” (Laura Linney, having some fun) are maybe less so.

There’s also a subplot with Jeff’s pal from a pickup basketball league, played by Dennis Haysbert (quite a sight with shaved head and big gray beard — although there’s no mistaking his voice). This might actually have some resonance, but Haysbert’s role feels like it exists mostly to set up later plot turns.

In fact, for a movie that wants to suggest how one bad move leads directly into the briar patch, “The Details” doesn’t quite have that film noir sense of tumbling inevitability about it. The mood is just a little too casual, somehow.

Some of this might be down to Tobey Maguire’s glazed presence. He draws some of the slow-burning humor out of the early scenes, but he doesn’t project the drive that might convince us that Jeff’s restlessness would absolutely have to go down this crooked path.

Director Jacob Aaron Estes’ previous film was “Mean Creek,” a serious account of teens and their response to a bad situation. He has a good sense of how lies can take on power, and he’s got an interesting idea for the ending of “The Details,” which leaves an effective chill in the air. It’s worth a look, but could use a stronger engine.

“The Details” (2½ stars)

The decision-making skills of a restless, sex-starved doctor (Tobey Maguire) are sorely tested in this black-comic film noir with surreal touches. Somehow the film doesn’t quite gather the momentum is wants to drum up, and Maguire is a little too glazed to convey the urgency of his situation. With Elizabeth Banks, Laura Linney.

Rated: R for language, subject matter.

Showing: Sundance.

More in Life

‘Last Jedi’ is the best ‘Star Wars’ movie since the first one

This instant-classic popcorn movie makes clever references to the past while embracing the new.

Jesse Sykes brings her evolving sounds to Cafe Zippy in Everett

She and Phil Wandscher make a return trip to a club that she values for its intimacy.

Red wine usually costs more, but you can still find bargains

Here are five good-quality reds that won’t drain your grocery budget.

Beer of the Week: Skull Splitter and Blood of My Enemies

Aesir Meadery of Everett and Whiskey Ridge Brewing of Arlington collaborated to make two braggots.

Beer, wine, spirits: Snohomish County booze calendar

Ugly Sweater Party and Canned Food Drive at Whitewall: Marysville’s Whitewall Brewing… Continue reading

Student winners to perform concertos with Mukilteo orchestra

This annual show is a partnership with the Snohomish County Music Teachers Association.

‘Ferdinand’ a modern take on the beloved children’s story

The lovable bull is back in an enjoyable but spotty animated film from the makers of “Ice Age.”

Playwright alleges misconduct by Hoffman when she was 16

A classmate of Dustin Hoffman’s daughter says the actor exposed himself in 1980.

Art mimicks reality in engrosing ‘On the Beach at Night Alone’

The Korean film tells the story of an actress recovering from an affair with a married director.

Most Read