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Heroes of the Zeroes: Wonder Boys

by on December 5, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

 “Wonder Boys”
Rated R

Those who can’t do, teach. Professor Grady Tripp is on the wrong side of that comma and, despite tenure, not faring particularly well at that.

As 2000’s “Wonder Boys” opens, Grady says, “I lost a wife today.” No possessive pronoun, just an article that’s likely the latest in a series. It’s not all this one-time literary wunderkind has misplaced. No longer able to bend words to his will, Grady’s unfinished second novel checks in at 2,611 single-spaced pages.

Grady needs a brick wall, and plenty erect themselves in Curtis Hanson’s bizarre comic odyssey.

Its ghostly, wintry vibe pulsed Pittsburgh-in-February feelings through the fingertips and Steve Kloves’ Oscar-nominated adaptation of Michael Chabon’s novel stitched invigorating spontaneity into the shopworn sophomore-slump story. (With “Harry Potter” over, Kloves should be freed from that ghetto with creative carte blanche.)

Like a favorite novel, “Wonder Boys” gets more comfortably broken-in with each return, and Michael Douglas wears Grady’s scruffiness as sharply as a natty businessman’s clothes — addressing jealousy, panic and terror in creative complacency.

He’s hardly the best sponsor for James Leer (Tobey Maguire), a prodigy whom Grady’s words have reached and who leaves a trail of pathological lies a mile long. (Frances McDormand and Robert Downey Jr. also have terrific supporting roles.) As wild or woolly as “Wonder Boys” got, it remained tethered to Grady and James’ real-world problems and promise.

Douglas seems to get great renaissance roles every 10 years. Here’s hoping Douglas beats cancer and again dazzles us in late-septuagenarian days.