BY JOE TYRRELL
Like its smart and sexy stars, Matt Damon and Emily Blunt, the sci-fi romantic thriller "The Adjustment Bureau" steps sleekly through its paces, even when they take unexpected turns.
Wearing a dusting of metaphysics lightly, this is a movie that remains true to its core relationship without taking any of the accompanying baggage too seriously.
A good thing, because as a couple, David Norris (Damon) and Elise Sellas (Blunt) face more obstacles than just interfering co-workers, overprotective relatives or slovenly roommates.
We meet David first, as a young congressman rolling through a campaign to be the next U.S. Senator from New York. He's glib, he's smooth, he's in command. So is writer-director David Nolfi who sets this up quickly and crisply with the help of a "Who's Who" or a "Him? Really?" of infotainment types playing themselves.
There's Chuck Scarborough! There's Jon Stewart! There's Wolf Blitzer! There's Betty Liu! There's Michael Friggin' Bloomberg! There's Jon Stewart again! There's Mary Matalin and James Carville! There's Daniel Bazile!
A word: Years ago, Walter Cronkite was the most trusted man in America. Today, when Jon Stewart is our most trusted purveyor of news, Wolf Blitzer is our most reliable cameo actor. He's very credible.
(Although I would have liked to have been part of the audience for Stewart interviewing David Norris on a fake "The Daily Show," presumably in an interlude from interviewing Damon for a real "The Daily Show." Just to experience the meta-ness.)
Things start going wrong for the young candidate on the make when The New York Post — who else? — prints a photo of David flashing a full moon while in college. Faster than you can say, "Why is that an issue?" David is pulling himself together in a hotel men's room before going out to concede defeat before a ballroomful of disappointed supporters.
Hiding in a stall, though, is Elise, a modern dancer who is trying to evade hotel security after a prank. Sparks fly, and hey, that might as well be literal, because these two have that mysterious alchemy, an instant and electric connection.
David gets Elise's phone number before she runs off. She inspires his speech-making. As it turns out, though, Elise is not the only one interested in the losing candidate. For some reason, well-dressed men are tracking Norris with an eccentrically limited goal.
John Slattery, looking like he just stepped away from his "Mad Men" office, is very concerned that Norris spill coffee on his shirt before 7:05 a.m. As Richardson, he has assigned an associate to the case, the similarly suave but clearly weary Harry Mitchell, played by the excellent Anthony Mackie.
But things go wrong. Harry misses his coffee-spilling appointment. David gets on his bus and meets Elise again, looking more fetching than ever in a very short skirt. And then he arrives at his new job, rushes into a meeting and finds some very strange goings-on.
"You've seen behind a curtain that you weren't even supposed to know existed," Richardson tells David matter-of-factly. That's just before warning: Don't see that woman again — or else.
At this point, "The Adjustment Bureau" is just getting started. Loosely based on a story by the late Philip K. Dick, the plot mixes menace, weirdness, wackiness and passion in truly inventive proportions.
Richardson and his associates, including Terrance Stamp, have a plan. They also have a Chairman, but whether that's Yahweh, Mao or Lloyd Blankfein is less important than the fact that even the best-laid plans gang aft agley.
What happens next is the fun of "The Adjustment Bureau," but it presents many other pleasures along the way. This is a movie where a snappy fedora is more than just a desirable fashion accessory. A movie that revels in the geography of Manhattan and environs.