Diminished Capacity

A rare baseball card, a couple of neurological impairments and a late-blooming love affair make Terry Kinney's light-hearted sitcom palatable enough.

A God’s little acre’s worth of premeditated eccentricity runs through “Diminished Capacity,” a triumphant losers-in-Cornville comedy starring Matthew Broderick in a role he might have phoned in, and Alan Alda as a combination Jed Clampett and Raymond Babbitt. A rare baseball card, a couple of neurological impairments and a late-blooming love affair make Terry Kinney’s light-hearted sitcom palatable enough, and a name cast will make for reasonable B.O. Word of mouth, however, will likely be along the lines of take it or leave it.

Cooper (Broderick), a political columnist for a large Chicago newspaper, has been consigned to editing the comic pages because a recent head injury has dismantled his short-term memory. He’s on the mend, but when he’s dispatched to rural Illinois to care for his uncle Rollie (Alda), what we get is a double dose of dementia.

Rollie has even hooked up his typewriter to fishing lines, by which the inhabitants of his pond hammer the keys and write “poetry”; he dries his socks on a makeshift propane grill he remembers to turn on but neglects to light; and he’s been telling everyone in town about his big secret — a 1909 Chicago Cubs baseball card of unconscionable value.

Rollie, a bit infuriating (as is Alda’s Alabama accent, when all around him sound like Midwesterners), is becoming a target for the local criminal element, the demented Donny (Jim True-Frost) being Exhibit A. Between the two of them, Rollie and Cooper can’t keep a thing straight. Lucky for them they have the lovely and vivacious Charlotte (Virginia Madsen) around, for infrastructural support.

The screenplay for “Diminished Capacity,” adapted by Sherwood Kiraly from his novel of the same name, is ripe with the obvious and the emotionally manipulative. There is a big baseball card convention happening that very weekend in Chicago and they all head into town to unload Rollie’s card. Unfortunately, not everyone is as guileless as Rollie.

It becomes glaringly apparent how low-energy “Diminished Capacity” is when Dylan Baker appears as obsessive Cubs fan and card dealer Mad Dog McClure. Suddenly, the viewer is grabbed by the lapels and dragged into the movie as Baker seizes our attention — particularly the attention of Cubs fans. It’s all about Chicago and the “disease,” as mad Dog puts it, of Cubs fandom (Cubs great Ernie Banks even has a cameo). Perhaps only in Chicago could Kinney have plausibly fashioned the kind of mania Baker possesses and portrays.

Unfortunately, the Baker aberration is just that. Nothing is very surprising in “Diminished Capacity” and the extent to which Kinney and Kiraly go to prolong the inevitable — the treasured card gets lost, stolen, lost, duplicated ad nauseum — only points to the holes in the narrative. A pleasant enough diversion, but “DC” will be bettered watched from the horizontal position of a couch, one to which the film seems all too eager to send you.

Diminished Capacity

  • Production: A Plum Pictures presentation, in association with Hart Lunsford Films, Benedek Films and Steppenwolf Films. Produced by Celine Rattray, Galt Niederhoffer, Daniel Taplin Lundberg. Executive producers, Bill Benenson, Pamela Hirsch, Bruce Lunsford, Ed Hart, Eric Warren Goldman, Scott Hanson, John Allen. Co-producers, Hollise Gersh, Edward Gersh, Marilyn G. Haft, Sherwood Kiraly, John Gilroy, Joy Goodwin. Directed by Terry Kinney. Screenplay, Sherwood Kiraly, based on his novel.
  • Crew: Camera (color, HD), Vanja Cernjul; editor, Tim Streeto; music, Robert Burger; music supervisor, Tracy McKnight; production designer, Dan Davis; art director, Matt Munn; set decorator, Cherish Magennis; costume designer, Sarah Holden; sound, Griffin Richardson; supervising sound editors, David Briggs, Lewis Goldstein; sound effects editor, associate producers, Riva Marker, Katrine Redfern, Douglas Brown, Janet Melk, Carina Alves; assistant director, Forrest Futrell. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Premieres), Jan. 23, 2008. Running time: 87 MIN.
  • With: Cooper - Matthew Broderick Rollie - Alan Alda Charlotte - Virginia Madsen Stan - Louis C.K. Dillon - Jimmy Bennett Mad Dog McClure - Dylan Baker Lee Vivyan - Bobby Cannavale Donny Prine - Jim True-Frost
  • Music By: