The single biggest misstep in this bungled Philip K. Dick adaptation is that the mystique of our antagonists is dispelled almost instantaneously. We get to know our aggressors who, as it turns out, are anything but aggressive. To compare genres, there's never been a great thriller where the detective in pursuit of a killer is 'just doing their job.' Passion breeds compelling cinema, and the paper pushers at the heart of "The Adjustment Bureau" are supremely uninteresting.
And despite the fact that they are explicitly "not human," a very human error sets the plot in motion. An Adjustment Bureau agent oversleeps (these guys sleep?), thus congressman and senate hopeful David Norris (Matt Damon) catches an early bus, bumping into a familiar comely Englishwoman (Emily Blunt) whom he was never supposed to see again. The film's saving grace is the pair's believable rapport, but after the forces that be repeatedly pull them apart, with sometimes years lapsing between meetings, it gets harder and harder to believe either is still carrying the other's torch.
Then you get into the contradictions and lapses in logic so heady a concept lends itself to. The law that governs the Adjustment Bureau is foggy at best, and though they evidently think nothing of freezing time to manually alter the opinion of Norris' political advisor, they seem incapable of preventing the divergences Norris himself so frequently propagates. Why not squelch Norris' irksome infatuation through similar tactics? Elsewhere, the Bureau threatens him with a memory wipe, but repeatedly chooses to reason with him rather than to take more effective action. For as much as they make of their supposedly infallible plan—which looks a lot like the animated Marauder's Map from "Harry Potter"—and the omniscience it grants, these celestial shepherds are about as dumb as sheepdogs.
In the belated final act, Norris races toward the mother of all movie climax clichés—the eleventh hour wedding intervention. With his unrequited love set to marry another dude, Norris exploits "The Adjustment Bureau's" two most ridiculous plot devices in order to intervene. First, he scores a magic hat, enabling him to access the subspace network that provides a series of shortcuts throughout New York. Second, he cloaks himself in a rainstorm, which like all water, inexplicably clouds the Bureau's ability to chart movement.
It's a shame that "The Adjustment Bureau" hangs its own proverbial hat on so many ludicrous details. The big questions it poses, while far from new, are well suited for a love story, and the directorial debut of screenwriter George Nolfi shows some promise. Unfortunately it's the writing that's at fault here, and while I can't speak to the source material, Nolfi's adaptation is rife with questionable choices. Potential squandered, "The Adjustment Bureau" is cast adrift in sci-fi no man's land between good intentions and their eye-rolling realization.
"Trust no one with a hat," Norris is melodramatically advised. "A Yankees cap, even a yarmulke." No joke, if you can swallow a line like that—hat's off.