‘Nick and Norah’ shows deft, understated wit

Posted Oct. 05, 2008, at 10:03 p.m.

In theaters

NICK AND NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST, directed by Peter Sollett, written by Lorene Scafaria, 90 minutes, rated PG-13.

The new Peter Sollett movie, “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” tells a familiar tale and tells it well.

It serves two demographics — those who remember a time in their lives when running around New York City — or any city, for that matter — until all hours of the night could lead to an unexpected chance at romance, and those now in their late teens and early 20s who are just finding that out.

Screenwriter Lorene Scafaria based her script on Rachel Cohn and David Levithan’s book, and what she and Sollett have pulled from it is a movie of surprising restraint — at least when it comes to the affections that bloom between its main characters, Nick (Michael Cera) and Norah (Kat Dennings), two shy teens from New Jersey who have a similar love for music and a quick, understated wit that suggests a fine pairing might be at hand.

In this movie, it’s the supporting characters who provide the antics and the energy, which is a shrewd move on Sollett’s part because it allows Nick and Norah to generate something real during the brief time we spend with them onscreen.

Some will argue that the movie is too slight to be significant and that its characters don’t possess enough depth to be interesting, but they’re missing the point. “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” is a slice-of-life vignette designed to offer only a glimpse into something deeper. We enter into it on the verge of one memorable evening, we observe what transpires within that evening, and then we leave the characters on the cusp of change in what you sense will be a more profound story that will play offscreen.

About the evening in question — it doesn’t start the way Nick intended. As the movie begins, he’s making CD playlists for his ex-girlfriend Tris (Alex Dziena), a pretty lass who won his heart, but who, unwittingly to Nick, continues to give that heart (not to mention other body parts) to other men.

When Nick’s buddies drop by in an effort to convince him to go out for the evening so they can seek out an underground band playing somewhere in the city (Nick’s male friends are gay, and one of the movie’s freshest, most appealing aspects is that they never come across as stereotypes and that sexuality isn’t even an issue for the generation in question here), Nick agrees.

And so into the arms of Manhattan they go. Eventually, Nick meets Norah, who has a drunken friend in Caroline (Ari Graynor, marvelous) who is a handful, and who also is frenemies with Tris. Naturally, they all collide at various times during the night and complications, you might say, ensue.

While echoes of Scorsese’s “After Hours” are obvious, Sollett’s movie has a sweetness and a relevancy all its own. It’s a movie that understands its characters and their generation, it refuses to condescend to either, and so it just goes along with both, following Nick, Norah and company through the highs and lows of one of those eventful evenings you somehow get through, and tend to remember with fondness long after it has passed.

Grade: B+

On Blu-ray disc

Of the many recommended titles new to Blu-ray disc, chief among them are several throwbacks, including “The Sixth Sense,” by far M. Night Shyamalan’s best movie, with the director showcasing solid writing and directing across the board.

The film is satisfying on many levels, most notably because it gives evil an opportunity to roam along the fringes of a well-developed story before it allows that evil to spread its wings at center stage. Bruce Willis is excellent as Dr. Malcolm Crowe, a child psychologist who gradually comes to understand things about himself through his relationship with Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), a young boy who can see the walking dead.

Also receiving high marks on Blu-ray is Lawrence Kasdan’s excellent 1981 crime thriller “Body Heat,” with Kathleen Turner and William Hurt never hotter than they were in this modern noir. It’s Turner again (this time with Michael Douglas) in two popular adventure movies from the 1980s — “Romancing the Stone” and its sequel, “The Jewel of the Nile.” Watching them again makes you wish Turner would just get on with it and return to movies.

Martin Scorsese’s engrossing 1995 crime movie, “Casino” is available. Based on Nicholas Pileggi’s book, this fiercely entertaining, Academy Award-nominated movie about the rise and fall of the mob’s gambling influence in Las Vegas clocks in at three hours, but with Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Sharon Stone, James Woods and a host of others doing some of their finest work, the film races by as if juiced by cocaine. Which, of course, parts of it are.

That movie is a thrill to revisit, but so are three other films new to Blu-ray — Tim Burton’s 1988 creep show “Beetlejuice,” the 20th anniversary edition of which is a swell reminder of why Michael Keaton once mattered. The film has held up, as has the re-mastered version of Tobe Hooper’s “Poltergeist” (which includes a 44-page booklet about the movie) and, believe it or not, even the 25th anniversary of “Risky Business” with a young Tom Cruise showcasing the sort of charm and charisma that would carry him through an impressive career that only faltered when he allowed his personal life to intervene.

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and archive of movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Mondays, Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle, as well as on bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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