September 17, 2009

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Cold Souls (PG-13)
Paul Giamatti puts his soul in storage in Cold Souls, a smart little comedy.

Paul Giamatti (Paul Giamatti) is an actor trying to figure out his role in a stage production of Uncle Vanya. Struggle though he might, he can’t get the performance right. Then he reads an article in the New Yorker about getting your soul removed. Without your soul, the doubts and anxieties holding you back are lifted off your shoulders, he is told by Dr. Flintstein (David Strathairn). You can have your soul stored in what looks like a safe deposit box in his New York office or, he tells Paul, it can be sent to deep storage in New Jersey. Paul decides to de-soul himself and, other than a sense of disappointment at seeing that his soul resembles a chickpea, leaves the office feeling OK.

On stage, however, the results are decidedly not OK — he plays this Russian tragedy big, like he’s delivering Emily’s final soliloquy in a high school production of Our Town. The attempt to compensate for this soulless performance is the insertion of the soul of a “Russian poet” — one of many souls that are brought to the U.S. by a Russian mule named Nina (Dina Korzun).

Cold Souls is probably better in concept than it is in reality. There are plenty of funny bits — the running joke of the souls being stored in New Jersey, the fact that a Russian actress wants Giamatti’s soul thinking it belongs to Al Pacino — but overall you’re left with a movie often as chilly and clinical Dr. Flintstein’s office. The fact that the movie warms up at all is due almost entirely to Giamatti and his familiar but entertaining put-upon-man performance. B-

Rated PG-13 for nudity and brief strong language. Written & directed by Sophie Barthes, Cold Souls is an hour and 41 minutes long and is distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Films.