SSome movies require your kindness and indulgence. So be patient with "The Informant!" If the first 45 minutes seem more than a bit of a bore and the sort of smug movie miscalculation that only smart people make (they almost put me to sleep), stay with it. The last hour is very much worth getting to.
That's where Matt Damon really is delightful as a flake who graduates and moves all the way up the ladder of disturbance to full-scale loon. The more medically acceptable term for his malady, as presented, is "bipolar," but as this film tells its story, he's so gifted at jobbing the shrinks -- along with everyone else -- that "flake" and "loon" may be just as accurate as anything else, however deficient in sensitivity.
It's ever-so-loosely based on a real story. By the time director Steven Soderbergh finishes with it, it's the tale of a whistleblower at agricultural giant Archer Daniels Midland who turns out to be, successively, an uncontrollable chatterbug, a narcissist, a delusional fool, a crook, and a full-scale nut-job.
The FBI baby-sits him for five years while he opens up a whole world of international price-fixing for them. By the time they're finished, they have no choice but to prosecute him, let alone all the ADM team colluding in all that international corporate skullduggery.
I know why the first 45 minutes went so wrong in "The Informant!" Soderbergh, his scriptwriter Scott Z. Burns ("The Bourne Ultimatum") and his composer, venerable BPO pops conductor Marvin Hamlisch, somehow had to convey to the audience that what they're watching is eventually, so help them, going to be funny.
So the script tries to indicate that by being full of off-the-wall non sequiturs in Damon's narrative voiceover and Hamlisch's music goes way over the top sonically semaphoring comic intent, as if this were some bad Dean Martin sex comedy from 1966.
It's Burns' script that should have been rewritten.
Nor does it help matters at all that Soderbergh allows Damon to outsmart them both by taking the voiceover asides at much too rapid a clip, leaving too little room for laughs and too much information to handle comfortably. In the words of the ancient joke, comedy is all about timing and without artfully placed pauses, the audience can't help but think they're watching something mega-dweebs are making for themselves.
By the time it becomes clear just how far out in the fields of unreality that the "hero" resides, you've really got a movie.
All sorts of odd and delightful things start happening -- not least the Smothers Brothers, showing up separately (a nice in-joke) in cameos, and Jay Leno's old writer Jimmy Brogan appearing as one of Damon's shrinks.
As the government forces multiply and get a sense of just how wildly unstable and dishonest their ADM tale-teller is, we're in a world where "true" and "untrue" are dangerously -- and often hilariously -- close to being the same thing. Damon is so cheerfully wacked out that his and Soderbergh's self-evident pleasure in all this actually becomes a little contagious.
Add a rewrite and a full complement of comic pauses and this movie could have been a semi-classic black comedy about what American corporate culture is capable of.
What's onscreen now eventually turns out to be a nice little comic exaggeration of a real story.
As long as you meet it halfway and refuse to get discouraged.
Review: 2 1/2 stars (out of four)
STARRING: Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, Melanie Lynske
DIRECTOR: Steven Soderbergh
RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes
RATING: R for language
THE LOWDOWN: An agri-giant whistleblower turns out to be a major screwball and crook.